DENVER – Winning close games was something that the Rams have struggled with this season, but they managed to pull out a 64-60 over TCU in Tuesday night's play-in game of the MWC tournament.
CSU beat the Horned Frogs for the second time this season in a game that put the Rams into the first round of the conference tournament.
"I thought both teams played with emotion and big hearts," said CSU head coach Dale Layer. "It was ugly at times, but in the last two minutes we managed to make some stops and hit some free throws."
A dismal 60 percent shooting night from the free throw line did not stop the Rams from winning their first game of the week, but it did make for a close game down the stretch.
The Rams took a 27-26 halftime lead into the locker room with 11 first half points from sophomore Sean Morris. They eventually stretched the margin to seven on a Stuart Creason lay-in with 11:19 to go in the game.
However, TCU senior Nile Murry single handedly brought the Horned Frogs back into the game with his game-high 28 points, 19 of which in the second half.
"(Murry) made some big shots, but more importantly, he was able to get the ball to the basket quite often," said TCU head coach Neil Dougherty. "We were just trying to keep the ball in his hands."
CSU forward Freddy Robinson put the Rams up by five with a three-pointer to go up 55-50 with almost six minutes left to play, but Murry hustled down court and made a tough lay-up followed by a three-pointer to tie the game at 55.
After trading free throws at both ends of the court, sophomore Jason Smith gave CSU a 60-58 lead with two minutes left to play, but Murry again rose to the challenge and connected on a reverse lay-up to tie the game.
"I just knew I had to be aggressive," said Murry. "Both teams had a lot to lose because neither one of us wanted this to be our last game."
Four more made free throws by the Rams and two missed shots from beyond the arc from TCU sealed the deal for CSU.
"Had we made free throws, it would have been a game where my heart didn't jump out of my chest in the last three minutes," Layer said.
Swingman Freddy Robinson paced the Rams with 16 points on five of ten shooting throughout the game, but it was the defense on TCU's all-conference selection that stood out.
"I thought the big difference was Nile Murry, he was just very, very confident," said Layer. "I thought Freddy did a terrific job on him, yet he made some big shots."
Junior Michael Harrison fueled CSU in the second half by scoring ten of his 12 points in the second period. The 6-foot-9 forward connected on five of his eight attempts along with grabbing eight rebounds.
"In the first half when I got in foul trouble, I knew I had to calm down so I wouldn't be out for the whole game," said Harrison who was in early foul trouble. "Then the second half came around and I wasn't in foul trouble anymore, I knew I could assert myself, be aggressive and try to get my team going."
The eighth seeded Rams will take on the top-seeded San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday at 12 p.m. at Pepsi Center.
"Nobody wants to go home early," said Robinson. "Everybody is going to play their hearts out, I think that's one of the reasons that it was such a close game today."
Trevor Edy can be reached at email@example.com.
CSU Min FG-FGA Reb A P
Robinson 32 5-10 3 0 16
Smith 31 4-10 8 2 11
Harrison 24 5-8 6 1 12
Lewis 35 1-5 5 9 6
Gilling 12 0-1 0 1 0
Clark 4 0-0 1 0 2
Morris, S 24 4-8 3 0 11
Harris 2 0-0 0 0 0
Patterson 15 0-0 1 0 0
Creason 21 3-5 3 0 6
TCU Min FG-FGA Reb A P
Stubbs 22 5-14 6 0 12
Ibikunle 12 0-4 6 0 0
Hackett 33 4-8 1 0 11
Murry 39 8-22 3 1 28
Owens 28 2-4 4 0 4
Dougherty 15 0-0 0 3 0
Markley 1 0-0 1 0 0
Chinweze 1 0-0 0 0 0
Adams 12 0-4 1 0 1
Pierce 27 1-1 5 1 4
Taylor 11 0-0 0 0 0