LAS VEGASâ€” The CSU menâ€™s basketball team came out with a point to prove Thursday afternoon in its game against TCU in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament.
The Rams had lost in the first round each of the last three years. And this year, the stakes were higher than ever.
CSU is right on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament berth, and another win away from Moby Arena would be a nice addition to the resume.
And CSU made the desired statement with an emphatic 81-60 thumping of TCU.
â€œI thought our kids played great,â€ CSU coach Tim Miles said.
The Rams were flying from the start, jumping out to a 9-0 start (with the first eight points all coming from Wes Eikmeier) before TCU scored its first basket.
â€œI think itâ€™s definitely our best start (of the season),â€ CSU guard Dorian Green said. â€œWe felt really focused and came out to an early and quick start. That was key for us.â€
With Greg Smith unable to play with an ankle injury he suffered in practice on Wednesday,
CSU got contributions from everywhere as it ran to a 42-26 halftime lead.
The balanced scoring continued throughout the game. The rotation consisted of only seven players (not including Cody Mann and Chad Calcaterra, who came into the game in the final minute with the score decided).
Of those seven, six scored in double figures, led by yet another incredible performance by junior Pierce Hornung.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored 16 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, nine of them on the offensive end.
â€œHeâ€™s a tough-nosed player. To be a tough team, you need a player like him to do all the dirty work,â€ TCUâ€™s J.R. Cadot said. â€œYou never know where theyâ€™ll go with a player like him.â€
Hornungâ€™s play helped lead a barrage of CSU players attacking the paint. The Rams scored 50 points inside the lane and out-rebounded TCU 38-27.
But Hornung was far from the only sparkplug for CSU. Jesse Carr flirted with a triple-double, ending the game with 10 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Dwight Smith scored 11 first half points and 13 total and Will Bell rocked the Thomas & Mack Center with thunderous dunks all day long, finishing with 14 points.
Despite only two players coming off the bench, CSU outscored TCUâ€™s bench 23-18.
â€œI thought Dwight was tremendous in the first half,â€ Miles said. â€œI think itâ€™s a brother thing, too. When Greg went down, I thought, â€˜Little brother to the rescue.â€™ I thought that was awesome.â€
As good as CSU was on the offensive end, it was just as good defensively. The Rams held TCU to 33 percent shooting in the first half (and 39 percent on the game), and were able to contest every outside shot.
â€œWe got to their 3-point shooters, which they made 24 threes in two games (earlier this season),â€ Miles said. â€œThey went 2-for-20 tonight, so I think that was obviously a key.â€
CSU plays at 7 p.m. MT on Friday in the MW semi-final against San Diego State.
Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Lytle can be reached at email@example.com.
Final: CSU: 81 TCU: 60
CSUâ€™s top scorer: Pierce Hornung, 16 points
Points in paint: CSU: 50 TCU: 38
3-point percentage: CSU: 40 TCU: 10