For the CSU men’s basketball team, Saturday’s game against Weber State was just what the doctor ordered. After getting handled by No. 15 Gonzaga Monday night, the Rams turned it up on the defensive end to the tune of an 88-67 rout of the Wildcats.
JJ Avila led the Rams with 30 points on 10 of 19 shooting, to go along with seven rebounds and six assists while junior guard Daniel Bejarano shook off a poor-shooting first half to pour in 18 points, nine rebounds, and a career-high six assists. While both Avila and Bejarano struggled on the road against the Bulldogs, both found a bit of a rhythm in front of an announced home crowd of 4,133.
“I just really tried to be more aggressive and get more into the flow of the game. I just tried to do everything I could to help us get the win,” Avila said.
After struggling with slow starts during their first three games, the Rams took control early with a 9-2 run spearheaded by seven early points by Avila. CSU continued to roll offensively from there, holding the lead from the 19:50 mark of the first half all the way until the final buzzer. However, the most impressive part of their performance was on the defensive end of the floor where the Rams limited one of the best offenses in the nation a year ago to 35-percent from the field and only 1-7 from the three-point line in the first half.
In their loss to Gonzaga, the Rams had trouble guarding the three-point line, allowing the Bulldogs to shoot 14-31 from behind the arc. On Saturday, the Rams adjusted defensively to go over the top of ball screens, and it showed as the Wildcats struggled to find shots in rhythm. CSU shut down arguably the Wildcat’s best player in guard Davion Berry, a first team All-Big Sky selection last year, limiting him to just 12 points on 2 of 10 shooting.
“We went under the screens at Gonzaga because I didn’t think we could rotate over fast enough to stay in front of them, but we worked hard on our on-ball defense this week and I think it showed,” head coach Larry Eustachy said.
Following a three-pointer at the halftime buzzer by freshman David Cohn, the Rams refused to let off the gas in the second half, never allowing the Wildcats to get closer than 11 points and extending their lead to as many as 22 late in the game. While Weber State did improve on its offense in the second half, CSU responded by shooting 18 of 29 from the field and hitting 9 of 12 free throws. Even walk-ons Josh Morgan and Enrico Bueno got in on the action totaling three points and a block between them in the game’s final minutes.
For Eustachy’s young squad, wins against quality opponents like Weber State can be a huge boost in confidence after a demoralizing loss similar to the one it saw at Gonzaga.
“I wasn’t sure if we could beat this team, but the way we won this one was terrific. Weber State is an NCAA Tournament team and I couldn’t be happier with the way our team responded after that meltdown at Gonzaga,” Eustachy said.
CSU will now travel for their second and final non-conference road game of the year when they take on the University of Texas-El Paso Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.