In the paint and behind the arc, CSU’s basketball team got it done from all areas of the floor Tuesday night.
The Rams (15-13, 7-8 MW) won on the inside in the first half, and stroked jumpers in the second half en route to an 86-69 rout of New Mexico (16-12, 9-6 MW) in front of 3,148 fans in Moby Arena and a national TV audience watching on CBS Sports.
CSU big men Tiel Daniels and Emmanuel Omogbo were too much to handle in the first frame for UNM’s front line, despite both of them giving up several inches to Lobos center Obij Aget. Daniels threw down two dunks in the first half from pocket passes off the pick-and-roll, a play that CSU employed for close looks through the rest of the game.
“Coach (Eustachy) tried to tell us to set the screen inside of the 3-point line and just roll because the big was really slow getting back, and they really hedge hard,” Omogbo said of UNM’s defense. “That’s how we got our easy buckets.”
Omogbo quickly discovered he could get buckets around the rim, too, recording a nice 11 points and seven rebounds in the first half to carry the Rams into the break up 37-31.
Then it was the guards’ turn to light it up. Coming out of halftime, senior guard Antwan Scott was piping hot from outside. After CSU went just 3-for-14 from 3-point range in the first half, Scott drilled four 3-pointers in the first five minutes of the second. Both freshman guard Prentiss Nixon and junior John Gillon got in on the early second half fun with a quick trey apiece, too.
Scott, Gillon and Omogbo all ended with 18 points each, and Daniels finished with 16.
“Coach kept saying defend and rebound, we have to get back to what we do if we want to be successful,” Scott said. “At the offensive end, just share the ball. I think we got a little dependent on making threes all the time. I think we worked it inside-out tonight. … We just played together as a team and really defended and rebounded tonight.”
After Gillon’s first 3-pointer of the half, the Rams were up 16, 57-41, with 14:16 to go. Then they avoided squandering their lead down to a scary margin for the first time they’ve held a lead in the second half during Mountain West play. CSU extended the gap to 20, 75-55, by the 3:48 mark with three straight Daniels layups.
“I haven’t been able to sit down on the bench with two minutes to go knowing the game was over since about a season ago,” Eustachy said.
Even while CSU dropped bombs from 3-point land, its inside play remained a huge reason behind CSU’s second half dominance. The Rams snatched 15 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points on the night. On the other hand, UNM ended with just nine offensive rebounds, and was invisible in the paint, where CSU scored 36 points compared to just 26 the Lobos netted inside.
“Coming into the game, Coach really focused on boxing out because we knew (Aget) was big, like 7-foot-1, but he was only 220 (pounds),” Omogbo said. “So I kind of just got my body in there, it’s not that big, but I just kind of got it in there and kept exploding up and me and Tiel were eating up inside.”
With the loss, New Mexico loses its share of second place in the Mountain West standings, now trailing Fresno State (18-9, 9-5 MW) and San Diego State (20-7, 13-1 MW). CSU moves into a tie for sixth place in the conference with UNLV (16-13, 7-9 MW), which lost Tuesday night to Boise State.
CSU hits the road for its next two games, first against Nevada on Sunday at 3 p.m. MT. Fans can watch the Rams play the Wolf Pack on Root Sports. Following that game, CSU travels to Fresno State next for a contest next Wednesday.
Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.