It was a tale of two halves as the Rams put a damper on former teammate Dwight Smith’s homecoming.
Colorado State (8-0) beat Northern Colorado (4-3) behind Stanton Kidd’s 18 points and eight rebounds. The Rams overcame their first double-digit deficit of the season to down the Bears 66-58.
Despite committing 11 turnovers and shooting just 36 percent from the field in the first half, the Rams closed on a 14-2 run to carry a 29-28 lead into the break. They looked like a different team from then on and quickly built upon their lead with an 11-3 run to open the second half.
“I thought our team was totally outplayed early and out-determined,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “I give them credit because the game could have really gotten away. We could have been in a lot of trouble at halftime but we managed to punch back.”
CSU’s lead never ballooned past 12 but they thoroughly controlled the last 20 minutes by taking advantage of UNC’s smaller defenders and out-rebounding the Bears 41-33.
Tiel Daniels turned in his first double-digit scoring performance of the season with 11 points and 9 rebounds, and J.J. Avila recorded his second double-double this year with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
After settling for long jumpers and taking a long time to set up their offense in the early going, the Rams began to find more success around the rim as the game progressed.
“Guys passing, guys cutting… all it is was layups,” Kidd said. “We didn’t really take that many long shots in the second half.”
In Smith’s return to Moby Arena, he received a nice ovation from the Fort Collins crowd.
“That was extremely humbling,” Smith said. “I didn’t expect it. There were a lot of people telling me they were going to be here, but I didn’t expect the crowd’s reaction to be like that.”
He made his presence known by knocking down a three to put UNC on the board and jawed with his former teammates throughout the first half, eventually receiving a technical foul following an emphatic block on John Gillon.
After leading UNC with seven first half points, Smith’s efforts were quelled a bit by foul trouble. He finished with nine points in 28 minutes and led UNC with three steals.
As for the Rams, things turned around when they began getting to the rim and drawing fouls. However, Eustachy might have them spend more time shooting free throws than usual before Wednesday’s game against Colorado. CSU shot a miserable 14-of-30 from the charity stripe.
CSU also struggled to take care of the ball early, racking up six turnovers in less than seven minutes.
“We’ve got to take care of the basketball,” Kidd said. “We have got to be on the same page. We shouldn’t have that many turnovers in the first five minutes. That’s what got them on a run. We were very beatable in the first half.”
The Rams were able to overcome their turnover and free throw issues against UNC but they will need to play sharper from the start Wednesday when they travel to Boulder take on CU.
Eustachy knows that performances like this will not always cut it, but he pointed out that his team has been without the services of a few key players. Getting Fred Richardson back from suspension and Antwan Scott back from injury should give the Rams a significant boost in terms of depth.
“We played too few of guys too many minutes,” Eustachy said. “I think you’re going to see Fred eventually get eligible, you’re going to see John Gillon’s hard work start to pay off and then I think we’ll have a complete team.”
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.