Nov 062011
 
Authors: Andrew Carrera

A CSU defense that limped through the first half came to life after halftime and carried the Rams to an 83-70 victory over Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.

“I thought we were overextended early in the first half with our screenable defense,” said CSU coach Tim Miles, who led the SMSU Mustangs to a 78-39 record as their head coach from 1997 to 2001. “We backed off in the second half, and that was much better for us.”

CSU had just come off of a win four days ago over CSU-Pueblo, where Miles and the 2,241 others watching in Moby Arena discovered that the Rams couldn’t defend against the ThunderWolves at a level they were comfortable with.

The team slaved over changing this in the practices leading up to their final exhibition match against SMSU –– their last chance to tune-up before the regular season starts.

In the initial moments of the game, the Rams were afraid they hadn’t improved in this area at all.

“Basically, the first half wasn’t good enough. We kind of saw the same glimpse of defense that we saw against Pueblo,” said guard Wes Eikmeier, who led the Rams scoring 23 points in the contest. “That’s not the team you want to be.”

CSU and SMSU were virtually tied 42-41 at the end of the first half. The Rams ran a defense that left their opponents wide open to receive passes deep in the paint, leading the Mustangs to shoot 13 percent higher in the first half than in the second.

“They were different. You don’t face many teams that can have all five guys on the court shoot,” Eikmeier said. “ … You can see that we struggled with it a little bit in the first half when they were skipping the ball around knocking down wide-open shots.”

But second half was a different story.

SMSU went from making 55 to 27 percent of their field goals. They made less three-pointers as well, dropping from 50 to 20 percent.

Besides a “less than humane” locker room talk at halftime, Miles said what motivated the dramatic change in CSU’s defense in the second half had to do with how self-assured the Rams felt on court.

“Sometimes young people don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. To play excellent defense, you have to push through your comfort zone,” he said. “Until we do that consistently, we’re going to be an inconsistent defensive team.”

The Rams have been looking to fill a void left by senior players who had long carried the team’s scoring load, but graduated last year –– a search that’s still in the works and is affecting their ability to deliver an unchanging defensive performance.

“We’re a completely different team,” Miles said. “It’s the same program, the same guys have been in it. But it’s different roles, different expectations. And that takes time for adjustments, and it’s going to take time for us to develop those things –– that consistency, that leadership.”

Senior Reporter Andrew Carrera can be reached at sports@collegian.com.

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