This is not the same CSU men’s basketball team from a year ago.
It did, however, resemble its 2013-14 self early on in its 75-62 victory over Mercer at Moby Arena on Sunday night. That’s because it stuck last season’s script for the majority of the first half as seniors J.J. Avila and Daniel Bejarano took the reins.
The duo was in control, combining for 22 points and shooting 9-for-13, to help give the Rams (3-0) a 40-30 lead over the Bears (2-2) at halftime.
But the second half told the story of this year’s CSU squad — balance.
By the end of CSU’s third consecutive double-digit victory Sunday, its starters shared the wealth, scoring all but one of the Rams’ 75 points.
Junior forward Tiel Daniels’ nine points was the only scoring performance from the starting five to not reach double figures. Joe De Ciman and Stanton Kidd put up 15 and 14 points, respectively.
“It’s a good, balanced team. They’re not afraid to give up the ball,” head coach Larry Eustachy said. “They’re a really close group of guys … And that takes you a long way, it really does. You never underestimate team chemistry, and we’ve got it.”
De Ciman fouled out with more than four minutes to play, but not before one putting together one of his best performances since arriving to CSU in 2012.
He finished with 15 points, tying his career-high, shooting 6-for-11 which included knocking down three of his five 3-point attempts. The 6-foot-6 guard also contributed three blocks and two offensive rebounds.
“I was just waiting. You know, Joe is a big key,” Bejarano said. “He’s a hard worker, always in the gym so I’m glad he knocked down some shots and got it going.”
Bejarano finished with a game-high 22 points over 34 minutes. Avila ended with 14. Gian Clavell added the only point from the CSU bench on a late-game free throw.
CSU improves to 3-0 in its opening slate of home games. The Rams will next travel to Anchorage to play in the GCI Great Alaska Shootout, in which they’ll face Missouri State in the first round at 12 a.m. MT on Thursday.
“It goes back to practices, from the summer up until now, we’ve been battling together; blood, sweat and tears,” Avila said. “We go out there and know we work harder than every team we play … We don’t hold anything back and it’s paying off. We just have to keep it going.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Quentin Sickafoose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @QSickafoose.