For the first time in four tries, Larry Eustachy’s team is coming home from Alaska with a championship trophy in its hands.
Behind 14 points from senior forward Stanton Kidd and 13 off the bench from reserve guard John Gillon, the Colorado State men’s basketball team captured the 2014 GCI Great Alaska Shootout title with a 65-63 victory over the UC Santa Barbara Saturday night in Anchorage. The victory also gave Eustachy his first championship game victory in Anchorage, after falling short three times before at Southern Mississippi and Iowa State.
The Rams (6-0), matched the program’s all-time best start set in 1970-71, which was also equaled in both 2005-06 and 2012-13.
After rolling over Missouri State and Pacific in the first two rounds of the tournament, CSU finally got its first real challenge facing standout big man Alan Williams and the Gauchos.
Williams, a former teammate of CSU guard Daniel Bejarano’s at Phoenix (AZ) North High School, was named the tournament MVP after averaging 18.7 points and 14.7 rebounds in three games.
In what was a back-and-forth battle from the opening tip that featured seven ties and six lead changes, it was the Gauchos who led 33-32 at the half after a Gillon layup cut the deficit to just one.
From there, neither team could extend its lead by more than five points the rest of the way, with CSU taking its largest lead of the contest after a 10-2 run put the Rams up 57-53 with 6:36 remaining in the second half.
CSU held that lead until the final minute of the game when UCSB’s John Green hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 63 with 8.7 seconds to play. And just when it looked like the two squads were headed for overtime, guard Gian Clavell was fouled by the Gauchos’ Michael Bryson at midcourt with 5.7 seconds to play. Clavell calmly knocked down both free throws to put CSU up 65-63 and on the following possession, Williams’ last-ditch three-point attempt bounced off the backboard as the clock hit triple-zeroes.
“I didn’t know if you we could do it or not to be honest with you,” Rams head coach Larry Eustachy said after the win. “I thought we showed things that we couldn’t do last year; usually we were on the other side of something like this. I’m happy for the guys, and particularly happy for Daniel (Bejarano) and J.J. Avila … We had a long haul for a year, and they stuck it out and this is the reward.”
Colorado State now heads home for another key non-conference matchup against Texas-El Paso at Moby Arena on Wednesday night. The Miners opened the season receiving votes in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches’ Top-25 polls.
Gillon, Bejarano, Avila named to all-tournament team: Despite not winning tournament MVP honors, Gillon, Bejarano and forward J.J. Avila were named to the all-tournament team after Saturday’s game. The trio joins Anchorage-Alaska’s Travis Wilson, Mercer’s Ike Nwamu, Missouri State’s Dorian Williams, Pacific’s T.J. Wallace, Washington State’s DaVonte Lacey and the Gauchos’ Williams, Zalmico Harmon and Michael Bryson.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.