Despite a poor-shooting second half, the Colorado State men’s basketball used a strong defensive effort to beat Bethune-Cookman 66-52 Wednesday afternoon at Moby Arena. Behind 21 points from junior forward JJ Avila, the Rams improved to 5-2 on the year and 3-0 in their own tournament, The Colorado State Challenge.
In a first half dictated by a sluggish pace and twelve Bethune-Cookman fouls, CSU took a 35-21 halftime lead spearheaded by Avila, who scored 16 points on 5 of 7 shooting from the field as well as a 5 of 6 effort from the free-throw line. Even with Avila’s stellar first-half performance, the Rams struggled to adjust to the methodical tempo set by the Wildcats, something junior guard Jon Octeus lamented in the post-game press conference.
“We kind of played to their game, instead of playing ours,” Octeus said. “We just have to learn from it, this game was a good learning experience for us.
Though they held the lead from start to finish, the Rams couldn’t carry their momentum early in the second half as the Wildcats began the second frame on 7-0 run and eventually cut the deficit to 6 on a pair of free throws by Clemmye Owens. But from there CSU turned up the defensive pressure, going on a 23-9 run to extend their lead to 20 at the 4:07 mark, their largest lead of the game. Despite shooting only 31% in the second half, CSU was again impressive from the free-throw line hitting 29 of 36 attempts, led by Avila and Octeus combining to shoot 13 of 16.
“It just comes down to not settling for long shots and three-pointers,” Avila said. “We just have to keep attacking and make the right play, today that meant getting to the free-throw line.”
In a rare mid-afternoon, weekday game in front of an announced crowd of only 2,945 including recent CSU signee Gian Luis Clavell, the Rams struggled to find energy until Head Coach Larry Eustachy lit into his team during a timeout midway through the second half. Eustachy’s fiery rant seemed to ignite a fire under his team as the Rams left the timeout with a greater sense of energy and refused to let off the gas until late in the game when walk-ons Mike Burnett, Enrico Bueno, and Josh Morgan replaced Octeus, Avila, and fellow starter Daniel Bejarano at the 2:20 mark. However, players and coaches were clearly not satisfied with the effort and energy displayed early in the half.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting ourselves prepared and ready for the game, regardless of how many people are in the stands or who we are playing against,” Octeus said.
CSU will look to finish the inaugural Colorado State Challenge with a win Saturday against New Mexico State before hosting rival Colorado Tuesday night in likely the Rams’ biggest game of the non-conference schedule.
Saturday’s game tips off at 4 pm and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports as well as on ESPN 105.5 FM.
Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kpopecollegian.