It had been 49 years since the Rams men’s basketball team had won in Boulder, but Saturday they would not be denied, even as the Colorado Buffaloes staged a furious rally that came up just short in the Rams 72-69 victory.
While the Rams hardly needed any extra inspiration while facing their biggest rival, they found some extra motivation every time they were reminded of the drought in Boulder dating back to 1957, according to Rams forward Jason Smith.
“49 years. That was our motivation all week,” said Smith, who pounded inside for 15 points and 16 rebounds.
In what is usually the marquee game for both teams, fan support was minimal, as only 4,309 people showed up to the game, which bothered Rams coach Dale Layer after the game.
“It was a good college game,” said Layer, who wasn’t even born the last time the Rams won in Boulder. “I’m sorry that more people didn’t get to see it.”
Smith led the Rams, recording his fourth double-double of the season and the Rams were able to shut down Colorado’s star Richard Roby.
Roby, who did lead the Buffs with 20 points, was held in check for a majority of the second half as the Rams pulled away, and Layer credited Tim Denson and Cory Lewis with great defense.
“I thought Denson and Cory Lewis both did a terrific job on him,” said Layer. “He’s a great player, but they got in his face and made it difficult for him. Most of those shots were contested.”
Roby seemed inattentive much of the game, especially during a time-out at the 7:55 mark in the second half, where he stood on the outside of the Buffs huddle, looking away, but his energy on defense was crucial during the CU comeback in the last four minutes.
CSU, after a slow start, was able to dominate the middle of the game, extending their lead to 15 points with 4:04 remaining, when it seemed Stephan Gilling’s fourth three pointer of the game would be the dagger in the Buffs heart, as about half of the Colorado student section filed out.
The Buffs would not go away, and the Rams couldn’t seem to solve a full-court press, or consistently sink free throws, as the Buffs whittled the lead down to two points with 18.1 seconds left.
Tim Denson hit one of two free throws, and Roby’s 3-pointer to tie the game rattled of the rim, allowing the Rams to gain possession and finally breaking the Buffs press to run out the clock.
The game got off to a slow start, especially for the Rams who fell behind 9-0 before responding to surge ahead at halftime 43-34, before extending the lead to double-digits for much of the second half.
Cory Lewis scored 13 for the Rams, while Gilling chipped in 12, on 4-5 shooting from 3-point range, something he spent considerable time practicing before the game, staying out extra on the court to practice prior to game time, knowing it was important for him to be in a groove.
“I’ve been struggling lately, so I had to get some work,” said Gilling, who hit three clutch 3-pointer in the last 8:28 of the game.
The Rams are off for finals week, and don’t play again until Dec. 18 at home against North Dakota State.
Matthew Pucak is the men’s basketball beat writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.