New CSU coach Larry Eustachy has insisted that his team would struggle early, but he’s always maintained the Rams will figure it out eventually.
Both predictions rang true in the Rams’ 72-65 win over Montana Friday night in Moby Arena.
Montana lead by as many as 10 in the first half, but the Rams clawed their way back with a dominant rebounding effort and timely free throw shooting.
“I think that a team takes on the coach’s personality. This is a terrific win, if it didn’t work out it didn’t work out,” Eustachy said. “We aren’t going to be very good early, but we are going to be hard to beat late.”
CSU didn’t score for nearly five minutes after opening the game 0-of-7 from the field, but kept itself and the crowd in the game by pulling down nine offensive rebounds over the same span.
The Rams out-rebounded Montana 44-21 and pulled down 19 offensive rebounds to just two for the Grizzlies.
“That’s what’s gonna win us a lot of games. We should be a tough team to block out,” senior forward Colton Iverson said. “We can throw up about any shot and should be able to go get the offensive rebound.”
Iverson scored a game-high 18 points, 14 in the second half, while pulling down 8 rebounds in his first competitive game since he transferred from Minnesota following the 2010 season.
Montana built that early lead by forcing 4 turnovers in the first four minutes, but CSU only gave the ball away five times for the rest of the game, an improvement after the Rams lost the ball 17 times in their exhibition game against Metro State.
CSU trailed Montana 34-27 at halftime after shooting 29 percent in the first half, but used a 7-0 run in the first three minutes of the first half to tie the game.
The lead changed hands several times until Iverson tied the game at 50 with an and-one layup.
Senior guard Wes Eikmeier gave CSU a 53-50 lead that it never relinquished with his own three-point play.
“Whenever we took the lead in the second half, somehow it was just taken away time and time and time again,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said.
Eikmeier came alive in the second half, scoring all 10 of his points and tying the game at 46 with the Rams’ only three pointer with 11:51 remaining.
Eustachy challenged him and the entire team to be more aggressive and pick up the pace in the second half after scoring only 27 points in the first.
CSU responded with 45 points in the second half, and made 20-of-25 free throws after the break after picking up its pace and attacking the basket more.
“None of this stuff comes out in practice or in scrimmages; it comes out when you are down seven or you are down at halftime,” Eustachy said. “You can’t simulate the game.”
Assistant Sports Editor Kyle Grabowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.