The Colorado State menâ€™s basketball team beat perennial conference contender UNLV 78-63 in Las Vegas last night to retain sole possession of third place in the Mountain West Conference.
The victory is an encouraging sign after the Rams failed to beat a single top-four conference team a year ago.
The Rams (13-5, 3-1 MWC) finished the 2009-10 season with a record of 0-9 against the MWCâ€™s top echelon teams (BYU, San Diego State, New Mexico, UNLV).
â€œItâ€™s a big win. Weâ€™ve said all year long we can play with these top teams,â€ said senior forward Travis Franklin, who led all scorers with 24. â€œTo come here and get an away win like this is real big for our confidence and momentum.â€
UNLV (14-5, 2-3 MWC) fell behind early, trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half. At one stretch the Rams went on a 10-2 run to keep the lead in double digits.
CSU coach Tim Miles liked his teamâ€™s aggressiveness to open the game.
â€œWe were getting high quality shots, shooting a good percentage, sharing the ball and turning UNLV over plenty in the first half,â€ Miles said.
Senior forward Andy Ogide had success in the first half, scoring 10 points without missing a single field goal.
On the game, Ogide finished with 18 points before fouling out with just a few minutes remaining.
CSU has struggled up to this point in the year to close out games on the road, and it appeared to strike again when the Rebels went on an 8-0 run themselves to close the halftime lead to just five.
Turnovers plagued the Rams at times, due in large part to UNLVâ€™s signature full court press.
â€œWes Eikmeier and Dorian Green were outstanding against (the press), but thatâ€™s what UNLV does to you,â€ Miles said. â€œAt the end of the day, I think we did enough things right to stand the attack and put them away.â€
Franklin took the game over in the second half, scoring 18 points in the frame.
â€œWell theyâ€™re a pressure team, and my teammates did a great job handling the ball and got me open in the right spots,â€ Franklin said. â€œWe knew going in we could compete with these guys.â€
UNLV would not go down easy, roaring out of the gates in the second half to tie the game at 31 apiece with 17:30 remaining.
The Rams managed to fight off UNLVâ€™s comeback effort by switching to a 2-3 zone defense, something the coaches felt would be effective to start the second half.
â€œWe thought we could maybe get by without zoning, but at the end of the day we had to change it up and the zone was really good,â€ Miles said.
The Rams now head home on Saturday to face No. 9 Brigham Young in the white out game at 7 p.m.
Assistant Sports Editor Cris Tiller can be reached at email@example.com.