The CSU menâ€™s basketball rode a hot start and a cool finish to hold off a feisty Denver University team Wednesday night for a 79-75 win.
CSU took the lead with 17:49 left in the first half when a Wes Eikmeier layup made it 4-3, and the Rams never trailed after that.
But it was far from easy.
A lead that grew to as much as 13 in the first half, and was seven at halftime, shrunk to three early in the second half.
CSU (11-4) was then able to move it back to double-digits, but DU never went away, forcing the Rams to hold on for dear life as the lead was cut to 78-75 in the final minute.
â€œYou knew (they) werenâ€™t going away,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said about DU. â€œThereâ€™s no huddle talk of â€˜letâ€™s put them away, killer instinct.â€™ Itâ€™s more like, â€˜hang on!â€™â€
But the Rams held their nerve at the free throw line, hitting five free throws in the final minute.
Their composure at the charity stripe may have been the difference on the night. In a game that saw 51 fouls and 65 total free throws, CSU hit 28-31 (90 percent). In fact, their first miss didnâ€™t come until their 18th free throw attempt.
In the first half the Rams came out with strong defensive intensity, despite being without their best perimeter defender in Dwight Smith, who missed the game with a broken nose and possible concussion.
CSU forced seven first-half turnovers, turning them into 13 points.
â€œWe played in a manner that gave them a lot of confidence coming out of the gate,â€ DU coach Joe Scott said. â€œAnd I think they maintained that confidence all the way through.â€
But after the halftime break, DU came out with an added focus and determination and began to run their offense in the efficient manner they are best known for.
The Pioneers started to run numerous back-door cuts to the basket, repeatedly catching CSU off-guard. And the Rams were hamstrung defensively by a short bench.
With Smith out, alongside Trevor Williams who is dealing with a bad back, Miles relied on basically seven players. He opted to not play freshman Cody Mann and Chad Calcaterra, except for one minute in the first half for Calcaterra, because the complexities of DUâ€™s offense might leave them vulnerable. And Miles was wary of Scottâ€™s ability to attack certain matchups.
With those factors combined, DU (13-4) started to shoot lights out in the second half, getting easy looks at the rim. The Pioneers scored 20 points in the paint in the second half while shooting an outstanding 70 percent.
â€œTheyâ€™re efficient,â€ Greg Smith said. â€œTheyâ€™re going to do what they do. They get to the basket, they get their back cuts, theyâ€™re going to do a lot of things. Theyâ€™re just really efficient.â€
Despite the surge, CSU was able to stave the rush as Wes Eikmeier, as usual, helped steady the ship. He scored 12 second half points and hit all 10 of his free throw attempts. He finished the night with 22 points.
Eikmeier was one of three CSU players, along with Smith (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Dorian Green (15 points), to score in double figures.
The win gives the Rams six-straight victories going into conference play, which begins Saturday at Moby Arena against TCU.
“We’re excited,” Eikmeier said.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.