Video by Keith Albertson and Travis Green, CTV11
AIR FORCE ACADEMY — It wasn’t pretty. In fact, at times it was downright ugly.
Despite 14 first-half turnovers, the Colorado State men’s basketball team eventually found its groove, beating conference rival Air Force 68-56 Saturday at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs. Behind the trio of Jon Octeus (18 points), J.J. Avila (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Joe De Ciman (15 points), the Rams battled through a second half marred by fouls to improve their road record against Air Force to 30-19 all-time.
However, it looked as though the Rams (14-10, 5-6 MW) were going to run themselves out of the gym early, trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half before chipping away at the Falcons’ lead and eventually bringing it within three points on a fadeaway 3-pointer at the buzzer from guard Daniel Bejarano. But for a team that has had more than 14 turnovers in only three games this year, the Rams’ inability to beat Air Force’s 2-3 zone came as a surprise to both players and coaches.
“We just didn’t come ready to play in the first half,” guard Jon Octeus said. “We practiced against that press all week to prepare for this game and then we came in and did the exact opposite of what we had practiced. It was just a lack of focus by us and luckily it was only a 3-point game at half.”
From there, it was a back-and-forth affair that featured five ties and three lead changes, but then the Rams took control with a commanding 19-7 run over the final 5:34 that resulted in their sixth-consecutive victory over the Falcons. The biggest catalyst in the second frame for the Rams was their ability to get to the free-throw line, converting 19 of their 24 attempts compared to 6-of-9 made free throws for Air Force.
“The difference in this one was at the free-throw line,” Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich said. “They got some second-chance points which hurt us but they outscored us by 13 at the free-throw line and they ended up beating us by 12.”
After losing three in a row to the top-3 teams in the Mountain West (No. 5 San Diego State, New Mexico and Nevada), the Rams have won consecutive conference games for the first time since Jan. 11. Behind those wins have been two impressive performances on the glass, first out-rebounding a much longer Rebels team 37-36 Wednesday night before absolutely dominating the boards with a 47-17 advantage over the Falcons (9-13, 3-8 MW) Saturday afternoon. Compare that to the first time these teams met when CSU just barely won the edge on the glass 35-33.
“When they missed shots, we made sure we got the rebound and didn’t give them any second chances,” Avila said. “And then on the other end we made sure we gave ourselves some extra chances if our shots weren’t falling. There’s no way you should lose a game when you get 30 more rebounds than the other team.”
Next Up: The Rams return home to face Utah State on Tuesday night at Moby Arena. Tipoff is at 7:15 pm and will be broadcast on the CBS Sports Network as well on ESPN 105.5 FM.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.