GREELEY – Whether or not CSU considers neighboring Greeley’s Northern Colorado to be a rival doesn’t seem to matter to Bears fans.
Navy and gold clad students rushed the floor Saturday night as time wound down on UNC’s 79-52 upset of a young Ram team, closing the book on CSU’s first real test in a hostile rival’s gym.
The Rams (3-3, 0-0) traded baskets with the mid-major Bears (3-2, 0-0) with metronome consistency for the first 32 minutes of the game, leaving the game tied at 55 with 7:28 to go.
From there, the wheels fell off. The Rams scored just four more points, while the Bears hit 11 of their last 12 free throws and added three buckets to stretch the final margin to 13.
CSU coach Tim Miles said his team was “out-toughed” late in the game, especially on the glass and with crucial bench points.
“I thought they just out-toughed us,” Miles said. “Our margin of error is not that great. I was just disappointed.At the end of the day if we get defensive stops, we win the game. If we rebound, we win the game. And we didn’t do that. ”
The Rams were out-rebounded 25 to 43, leading to 20 second-chance points for the Bears. CSU finished with three points off offensive boards.
Senior center Stuart Creason, who finished with just two rebounds, agreed with Miles, saying that while the game is not one of the biggest that the Rams will play this year, he doesn’t want his teammates to forget how bad it felt to let a winnable game slip away.
“I just know that if we take care of business and we get looks in the paint like we want to and we get rebounds, which we didn’t do, we win that game,” Creason said.
On the bright side, junior guard Marcus Walker staged an impromptu shooting clinic in the first half, dropping five of seven from the three point arc before the break. Unfortunately for the Rams, Walker lost his fire in the second half and hit just one layup in the last 20 minutes.
Despite the drought, Walker led the Rams in points with 17. Creason started slow, with just four in the first half, but picked up 10 in the second half to finish at 14. Junior point guard Willis Gardner added 16 points of his own, along with three assists.
The bench scoring was a problem for the Rams, as they picked up just five points from their non-starters. UNC finished with 20 from its bench.
Freshman Josh Simmons had four points in eight minutes to lead the bench scoring line. After the game Simmons said that the Rams failed to execute, but that it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed in practice.
“I think we just need to have a few more practices, work on the things that we did terribly tonight like rebounding, boxing out, and executing,” Simmons said. “Just get better at our weaknesses and make the things that we are good at even better.”
Sports writer Nick Hubel can be reached at email@example.com.