Las Vegas, NV — The Rebels were running and CSU men’s basketball team simply couldn’t keep up.
Behind a balanced effort led by Bryce Dejean-Jones with 19 points, UNLV fought off a Colorado State rally to beat the Rams (15-14, 6-10 Mountain West) 78-70 at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas Wednesday night. After getting manhandled 75-57 on the road by this same Colorado State team exactly three weeks ago, the Rebels (18-10, 9-6 MW) rebounded from a heartbreaking overtime loss to Boise State to move into sole possession of third place in the conference standings.
In a first half that was almost a polar opposite of the first time these two teams met, the Rebels came out firing, hitting six 3-pointers and dominating down low with a 18-8 advantage in points in the paint leading to a 41-31 lead at the break. Along with controlling the paint, the Rebels outscored Colorado State 13-0 in fast break points, something CSU head coach Larry Eustachy implored his team to avoid earlier this week in practice.
But like they have all season, Colorado State fought back. Despite not having the services of standout guard Daniel Bejarano for much of the half due to foul trouble the Rams were able to cut the deficit to one on a basket by JJ Avila with 8:30 left to play.
“We had to learn from the first half,” Bejarano said. “We held them to two transition points in the second half, but we just couldn’t keep them off the boards.”
With a chance to take their first lead since the 18:27 mark of the first half, Joe De Ciman missed the front end of a one-and-one with 7:40 to play. From there, the Rebels used a 9-0 run to extend their back to double digits. Both teams traded baskets after that, but it simply wasn’t enough as the Rams lost for the fourth time in their past five games.
“We got it down to one and just couldn’t finish it,” guard Jon Octeus said. “We gave up 19 offensive rebounds, 14 second-chance points, 15 fast-break points, that’s why we lost this game.”
Colorado State was led by its “Big Three” of JJ Avila (22 points, 8 rebounds), Bejarano (21 points, 8 rebounds) and Jon Octeus (17 points, 6 rebounds).
The loss all but eliminated any hopes of receiving a first-round bye during the Mountain West Conference tournament in two weeks, but after the game Eustachy couldn’t help but praise the effort of a team who has dealt with its share of adversity including a rash of injuries, a sideline altercation between Bejarano and Eustachy, and the loss of senior point guard Jesse Carr in the preseason to an ACL injury.
“These guys are trying and that’s all you can ask,” an emotional Eustachy said after the game. “I love these guys and they leave it out there every night. We were just a few plays away but we gave them (UNLV) a scare. I think we’re just physically tired, we have such a short bench and we really need these couple days off to finish the stretch run.”
Next Up: The Rams will be idle Saturday before returning to Moby Arena for their home finale next Wednesday night against San Jose State. CSU will honor its two senior players, Gerson Santo and walk-on Josh Morgan at Wednesday’s game. Tipoff is at 7 pm and will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.