For the Ram men’s basketball players, this is how they always pictured games at Moby Arena would be. The crowd would be enthusiastic, cheering every bucket and encouraging the team to step up their pressure defense, perhaps even in the case of a close call, getting on the refs a bit.
Until this Saturday, these types of crowds have recently been saved for rivalry games against Wyoming or Colorado, but the crowd showed up in force to support the Rams, who responded by taking sole possession of second place in the MWC with a 90-78 win over Brigham Young.
“I thought the energy of Moby was tremendous,” said Rams Head Coach Dale Layer, who earned his 100th win at CSU in his career. “Fan support was certainly the best of the year. It was all green and gold today.”
The Rams were powered by 16 points from Jason Smith, and 18 points from junior guard Tim Denson, who was perfect on all three of his shots from 3-point range.
It was Smith’s emphatic dunk with 11:44 remaining in the second half that was the highlight of a 23-5 run for the Rams, during which the crowd repeatedly stood to cheer the Rams defense that held BYU without a field goal for 6:06.
“It was an open lane and I kind of didn’t know what to do with myself,” Smith said of his two-handed dunk, where he was given a free run to the basket after catching the ball at the 3-point line.
While Smith had the highlight reel play, it was the outside shooting and penetration by the Rams’ guards that opened up the inside game for Smith in the second half, as he and fellow seven-footer Stuart Creason had been held to just six combined points in the first half.
“You could see late in the game when we decided not to come off on (CSU’s guards), it really opened up the post players for them,” said BYU head coach Dave Rose, whose Cougars had won eight of their previous nine games.
BYU was led in scoring by Trent Plaisted, whose 27 points included some powerful dunks; Jimmy Balderson, who poured in 21 from the outside; and Keena Young who added 18.
While the Rams are certainly pleased to be in second place all alone, the team hasn’t reached the halfway point of the conference season, and they have to travel to rival Wyoming on Wednesday.
“I’m sure being in second place means a lot to a lot of people, and it’s great, but we’ve got Wyoming next,” Layer said. “We can’t feel good about ourselves for long. You can fall down in this league as quickly as you step up.”
The Rams were tremendously balanced, as all nine players who saw action scored.
Tyler Smith, back from a lower right leg strain that kept him out of action last Wednesday at TCU, scored 13 off the bench for the Rams, and Stephan Gilling, who got the start in place of Smith, scored 16.
“After every game, after every practice, you can just feel it: This team just keeps getting better and better,” said Rams guard Cory Lewis, who continued his steady play with nine points and seven assists. “We’re not settling for any one thing. Everyone wants to win the championship.”
Basketball beat writer Matt Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.
Air Force 5-1 18-2
CSU 4-2 14-4
UNLV 3-2 16-4
BYU 3-2 13-6
SDSU 2-3 13-6
TCU 2-3 10-7
Wyoming 2-3 11-8
Utah 2-4 7-12
New Mexico 1-4 12-8