There simply weren’t meant to be two Colorado State basketball comebacks in one day.
Unlike their counterparts on the women’s team earlier in the day, the Colorado State men’s basketball team was unable to rally from a halftime deficit, falling to Fresno State 75-66 Saturday night at Save-Mart Arena in Fresno.
Led by a balanced effort with five players in double figures, the Bulldogs (13-13, 6-7 MW) avenged their loss earlier this season to the Rams, and in doing so extended their winning streak to five games. The Rams got another strong performance from guards Jon Octeus (14 points, nine rebounds) and Daniel Bejarano (24 points, six rebounds, three assists), but it wasn’t enough to overcome 11 first-half turnovers and a 15-for-24 showing from the free-throw line.
In a game that was decided by just nine points, those misses proved to be costly.
After starting 6-for-9 from behind the arc in the first half, the Rams (14-12, 5-8 MW) went cold while the Bulldogs began to heat up, using a 15-0 run spanning the final four minutes of the first half and beginning of the second half to extend their lead to as many as 16 with 19:44 to play in the second frame.
“I just really don’t know how that happens,” Bejarano said when asked about the team’s habit of giving up big runs on the road. “It’s all on us, we’ve been turning the ball over a lot lately. Those turnovers before the half really hurt us though, we’re in a 1-point game and those (six) turnovers at the end of the half really just shifted the momentum.”
But from there the Rams battled back, going on multiple runs cutting the deficit to down to as little as six with 2:09 to play on a transition lay-up by freshman David Cohn.
After trading baskets, CSU again had a chance to make it a one-possession game but Bejarano’s mid-range jumper with 1:13 to play rimmed out. The Bulldogs then closed it out from the free-throw line to extend their longest win streak since the 2006-07 season. Despite his team’s late rally, head coach Larry Eustachy lamented the fact that his team continues to dig themselves into first-half holes that are often too deep to get out of.
“We’re just not a tough enough team right now,” Eustachy said. “I’ve coached a lot of teams and this one just lacks the mental toughness to play the game the right way for long periods of time. We don’t have the luxury to not play it the right way and the last four minutes of the first half really cost us tonight.”
After two straight wins over UNLV and Air Force, the Rams have lost a pair of crucial games during the homestretch of Mountain West Conference play.
With the loss the Rams are now two full games back of fifth-place Nevada with five games to play. However, four of those five games are against teams within two and a half games of CSU in the standings and the fifth is against last-place San Jose State.
“We’ve just got to look in the mirror and figure out how we’re going to stop whoever we play,” Bejarano said. “It’s really not that hard to keep guys in front of us. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself. Losing obviously sucks, but I’m still confident in this team and the fact that we can make a run here at the end of the season.”
Next Up: The Rams welcome the Boise State Broncos (16-9, 6-6 MW) and pre-season All-Mountain West selections Derrick Marks and Anthony Drmic to Moby Arena Tuesday night. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN3.com and ESPN 105.5 FM.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter@kpopecollegian.