The CSU basketball team proved it could run with the big boys on Saturday night, but it wasnâ€™t enough as the Rams fell 94-85 to No. 9 Brigham Young University and player of the year candidate Jimmer Fredette.
Fredette, the nationâ€™s leading scorer, dropped 42 points in front of a sold-out Moby Arena crowd.
The Cougars (19-1, 5-0 MWC) jumped out to a 15 point halftime lead behind 21 first half points from Fredette.
â€œI like being aggressive and quieting the crowd a little bit,â€ Fredette said after the game. â€œItâ€™s a good feeling to be able to come into a building where itâ€™s you versus the world and play well.â€
Early in the second half it looked as if the Rams might get run out of the gym as the deficit grew to 19; subduing the once-raucous crowd into silence.
The Rams (13-6, 3-2 MWC) suddenly sprung to life behind the high energy, pressure defense of freshman Dwight Smith, who was able to corral Fredette for stretches and allow the Rams to narrow the deficit.
Offensively, the charge was led by a career-high 25 points from CSUâ€™s sophomore guard Wes Eikmeier, who nailed five three-pointers.
Twice the Rams were able to pull within six points of the Cougars, but were never able to get any closer than that as clutch free throw shooting by BYU sealed the contest.
â€œWe shot ourselves in the foot in the first half,â€ said senior Andy Ogide, who recorded his sixth double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 rebounds. â€œTo come back from 15 (points) against a team like that is just tough. Youâ€™ve got to play them closer in the first half. We just had too far of a gap to come back from.â€
Despite the loss, the Rams showed a never-say-die attitude that has become a staple of the team.
â€œThis team will not be embarrassed, this team will not quit, this team will not stop,â€ said coach Tim Miles. â€œThey will fight you.â€
The scrappiness shown by the Rams and their energetic coach seems to be capturing the attention of the Fort Collins community.
The crowd of 8,745 was CSUâ€™s first sellout since 2003 and according to Miles was a â€œtreasureâ€ and â€œlifetime memoryâ€ for those involved.
The players certainly appreciated the Moby Madness.
â€œThe crowd was phenomenal,â€ Ogide said. â€œIn the second half I was really winded, and then I heard the crowd, and it just got my energy going right back. When you have that, it really is your sixth man. I havenâ€™t seen anything close to that since Iâ€™ve been here, and itâ€™s just a testament to the progress that weâ€™re making.â€
That progress amounts to a team currently sitting in third-place in the MWC standings and has legitimate postseason aspirations. Last season, the Mountain West garnered four bids to the NCAA tournament.
â€œWe showed that we could play and compete with them and it was almost on us that we didnâ€™t come back and close it all the way,â€ Eikmeier said.
The Rams have a few days off before welcoming the Air Force Falcons to Moby Arena on Wednesday night at 7 p.m.