After struggling to a one-point win in their exhibition opener last Saturday against Regis, the CSU men’s basketball team got its first chance at the real thing on Friday night against the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. In the first game of a Moby Arena doubleheader with the women’s team, the men’s squad dominated in the second half en route to a 99-70 win in the regular season-opener.
CSU struggled to get going early, trailing until the 13:52 mark of the first half. The Rams then took the lead for good on a layup by junior point guard Jon Octeus. After shooting only 46-percent from the field against Regis, CSU took it to the Mountain Lions early and often offensively, putting up 46 points on 62-percent shooting in the first half. Coming off the bench, freshman David Cohn substituted in early for Joe De Ciman and provided a big spark with 10 points on 4-5 shooting in the first half.
Unlike last weekend’s exhibition game, the Rams played in rhythm offensively and got out on the break leading to two huge alley-oops by centers Marcus Holt and Gerson Santo. Despite the strong first half on offense, CSU held only a 46-39 lead going into the break after allowing 18 points in the paint to a much smaller UCCS team.
Head coach Larry Eustachy was visibly frustrated with his team’s first half performance, something this squad has struggled with in both games this season.
“This team outplayed Wyoming last week, and we were only plus-two in rebounding in the first half. But we were plus-15 after the break, so they obviously took what we talked about at half and showed it in the rest of the game,” Eustachy said.
The Rams dominated on the boards in the second half, leading to a 46-29 advantage for the game. The rebounding effort was spearheaded by junior Daniel Bejarano, who led all players with 16, to go along with 17 points and five assists. Similar to last year, CSU was led by a balanced scoring effort with six players scoring in double figures including newcomers David Cohn (15) and Marcus Holt (14). However, the biggest improvement for this young team was its perimeter defense, something they struggled with last season and early this year. The Rams held a hot-shooting UCCS team to 38.5 percent shooting while limiting the Mountain Lions to a 6-23 effort from behind the arc.
Eustachy may have found his best lineup with Cohn and Octeus at the guard positions, Bejarano and J.J. Avila at the forwards and Marcus Holt at the center spot. The group combined for 73 of CSU’s 99 points, as well as pulling down 33 of their 46 total rebounds.
“We do great when we’re on the floor at the 1, 2, and 3 (positions),” Bejarano said of playing together. “David stepped up big time doing what he does, and I think coach saw that; hopefully we’ll get to see more of it.”
CSU will only have one day to rest before traveling to Gonzaga to play the No. 14 Bulldogs on Monday night in front of an already sold-out crowd in a nationally televised game on ESPNU. As the Rams head to Spokane for one of their biggest games of the season, Eustachy looks forward to the challenge of playing a nationally ranked team in front of one of the rowdiest crowds in the country.
“We’ll start looking at film tonight,” Eustachy said. “We have guys that have never played at this level before so whatever happens Monday night, we’ll be better for it.”
Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.