Photos by Austin Simpson
On Wednesday night at Moby Arena, Josh Morgan embodied exactly what CSU basketball is about.
The walk-on senior from Buena Vista, Colo., who has played a total of 42 minutes in two seasons as a Ram had a wide-open look from the 3-point line late in the game and with a crowd of 4,130 on their feet – he missed.
Another trip down, another good look and yet another miss.
But then Morgan decided he wouldn’t be denied. On the next possession, Morgan blew past his defender and got fouled going to the basket. It didn’t matter that he missed both free throws, Morgan showed the type of resiliency that has defined a season marked by adversity for the Rams.
Behind a balanced effort that included four players in double figures, Colorado State (16-14, 7-10 MW) rebounded from a tough road loss at UNLV to beat an overmatched San Jose State squad 78-66 on Senior Night for Morgan and center Gerson Santo.
Leading the charge was junior guard Jon Octeus with 21 points and five rebounds, along with solid nights from Daniel Bejarano (19 points, nine rebounds), J.J. Avila (15 points, eight rebounds), and Joe De Ciman (10 points, 3-5 3-PT).
Despite a surprisingly hot first-half shooting performance from the Spartans, CSU was able to weather multiple runs and take a 44-34 lead into halftime.
And when it looked as though the Rams had the visitors on the ropes looking for a final knockout leading by as many as 17 in the second half, the Spartans (7-22, 1-16 MW) responded with a 16-3 run midway through the half to cut the deficit to three points with 10:26 to play.
“Them being 1-16 in the conference is really misleading,” head coach Larry Eustachy said of the Spartans. “That team never gave up, they’re well-coached, they’re young and inexperienced and they make mistakes but they will be very good in time.”
But with their backs against the wall one more time, the Rams responded by outscoring the Spartans 18-8 over the next 7:15 before calling a timeout to substitute Morgan into the game. The ensuing three minutes of play had the entire Moby crowd on its feet, just waiting to erupt should Morgan score.
“I was trying to set screens, I was trying to get him the ball, anything I could do,” Bejarano said. “I even went and got offensive rebounds. I’m just proud of him and Gerson, they’ve been here since I have and I’m just really proud of those two guys.”
In what has been a frustrating season at times for coaches, players, and fans, the Rams again scrapped and fought for every loose ball and every rebound — a mentality they believe gives them a chance to beat anyone on any given night, including in next week’s conference tournament in Las Vegas.
“The biggest difference for us tonight (versus other games) was that we got stops,” Octeus said. “We rebounded well across the board at every position. Every game that we don’t play like this, we lose, but playing like this obviously worked last year and it’s worked when we’ve done it this year. We just have to make sure we’re playing our system in the game.”
Next Up: The Rams return to action Saturday when they travel north to Laramie to play rival Wyoming in the season finale for both teams. The Rams beat the Cowboys 82-67 at Moby Arena on Feb. 22 and will be looking second-consecutive season sweep of their archrivals. Saturday’s game tips off at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports as well over the airwaves of ESPN 105.5 FM.
Collegian Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @kpopecollegian.