Dale Layer had been searching for a complete game all season in
the Mountain West Conference, and he finally got it in the regular
season finale Saturday against the New Mexico Lobos.
Starting his 17th different starting lineup combination of the
season, the CSU men’s basketball head coach saw the Rams win their
first conference game that did not go into overtime , with a 76-66
score over the Lobos in front of 4,107 fans at Moby Arena.
The win snapped a seven game losing streak.
“It was a win that was a long time coming,” Layer said. “There
were glimpses of the team I was hoping to see all year.”
Freshman point guard Dwight Boatner’s 3-pointer at the buzzer
gave CSU a 43-36 lead at half time.
The Rams never let the Lobos get closer than four points in the
second half and sealed the game with good free throw shooting down
CSU leading scorer Matt Nelson tied his season high in scoring
with 25 points, hitting many shots off good passes from other Rams.
CSU had 16 assists and just nine turnovers, the team’s best
assist-to-turnover ratio all season.
“I knew they were going to try and double me,” Nelson said.
“Doing the stuff I do helps out everybody else.”
New Mexico forward Danny Granger, the Mountain West’s leading
scorer, had 19 points but hit just 2-of-10 shots from the floor.
CSU used many defenders to guard Granger and consistantly sent him
to the line, where he hit 14-of-18 free throws.
“That’s all you can do when you’re guarding a guy like Danny
Granger,” Layer said of CSU’s physical play on the 6-foot-8
forward. “He’s an unbeleivabley gifted player.”
Nelson said he wanted to send seniors Derrick Stevens and Ronnie
Clark out with a victory at home. Both Stevens and Clark started,
and Clark got the Rams going with eight points in the first 6:25 of
the first half.
“It was a good feeling,” Clark said of Saturday’s win. “We
struggled with injuries (this season) and it made it hard to build
Injuries to Nelson and shooting guards Micheal Morris and
Shelton Johnson, combined with fundamental mistakes and
inconsistant play from many players this season, led the Rams
(12-15 overall, 4-10 MWC) to a last place finish in the Mountain
West. They will play regular-season champion Air Force in the first
round of the Mountain West tournament Thursday at 7 p.m. at the
Pepsi Center in Denver. New Mexico (14-13, 5-9) finished in fifth
place and will play fourth-seeded UNLV in the first round.
The win gave CSU a little momentum heading into the tournament.
CSU also has confidence because they won the conference tournament
last year after losing seven straight games in February.
“I’m excited to play (Air Force),” said Nelson, who missed both
of the Rams previous meetings with the Falcons due to a sprained
right knee. “We’re going to try to do the same thing we did last
Matt Nelson tied a season-high with 25 points on 8-of-10
shooting and Freddy Robinson had his second best game of the year
with 19 points. The Rams also had a season high in
assist-to-turnover ratio and went 30-for-39 from the foul line.
The Rams gave up 14 offensive rebounds and 37 overall to New
Mexico. There were 54 fouls committed in the game, including five
from forward Matt Williams, who didn’t score.
CSU guard Jon Rakiecki had another poor day shooting the ball.
The 3-point specialist went 0-for-4 shooting, including 0-for-3
from 3-point range. Rakiecki hit just 18.2 percent (8-of-44) of his
3-pointers in conference play this season.