Going into winter break, the CSU men’s basketball team came off two disappointing road losses, one to rival CU-Boulder and one to Illinois-Chicago.
Since then, the Rams have rattled off nine wins in 10 games en route to positioning themselves in second place in the Mountain West.
“We’ve lost once and that was in overtime at San Diego State — a tough place to play,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “So we’ve made progress, (but) I think we can get so much better.”
Of the nine wins during the recess, the Rams defeated two teams from last year’s NCAA tournament (St. Bonaventure and UNLV) while pushing No. 16 San Diego State to overtime on the road.
They did it by reminding everyone of the Rams’ team that made the tournament last year.
During the break, CSU has performed better from the field than its opponents in every game except the San Diego State and UNLV contests and shot at 50 percent or better from the field in four games.
To go along with their hot shooting, the Rams out-rebounded every team it faced over break, while making themselves the team with the best rebounding margin in the country (13.8).
The hustle plays helped CSU particularly in its last game against UNLV, when the Rams denied the Rebels second chance opportunities down the stretch before squeaking out a 66-61 victory.
Senior center Colton Iverson struggled from the field in the game, scoring seven points on 1-for-8 shooting, but grabbed 10 rebounds and was described by Eustachy as “the happiest guy in the locker room,” despite his poor shooting performance.
“There’s a lot of things that go into playing and winning a game,” senior guard Dorian Green said.
“It’s not just scoring, (there’s) defense and rebounding, everybody was great defensively. So being a great teammate and knowing that the team’s first and trying to do whatever you can to help the team win, knowing you have guys like that is great.”
While some Rams like Iverson and Eikmeier struggled in scoring seven and six points, respectively against UNLV, Green shined while scoring 24 points, adding five rebounds and dishing five assists.
The performance propelled the Rams to victory and helped Green receive MW player of the week honors.
“I think it’s cool but I think it’s a compliment to our whole team, the way we play and how unselfish we are,” Green said. “The fact that it came in a win makes it better.”
Pulling out the victory against the Rebels keeps the Rams in the hunt for the top position in the conference, as every team in the MW has lost to a conference opponent at least once except for New Mexico, who the Rams will play on Wednesday.
Because of the fierce competition in the league, every one of the remaining 13 games in the season will be critical in securing the Rams’ position heading into the MW championships in March.
“We can play great and lose because of who’s in this league,” Eustachy said. “But we’ll play our best and hopefully it equals wins.”
The Rams have said throughout the year that it will be important for them to have an even keel throughout the season whether they win or lose.
CSU has maintained that tone while having a tough practice Monday afternoon in which Eustachy pulled players aside to work on their game and having the team run sprints when things weren’t going well.
“If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” Iverson said. “So we definitely wanna come in and work hard every day, and the teams that aren’t doing that aren’t improving and we just wanna keep getting better.”
Assistant Sports Editor Andrew Schaller can be reached at email@example.com