Video by Keith Albertson, CTV11
Where there is a will, there is a way.
Colorado State (7-0) hustled and scrapped its way to a 65-62 win over Texas-El Paso (4-2) Wednesday night, and its best start in program history.
With 10 turnovers in the first half, seven missed free throws in the second and all-around sloppy play to start each frame, the Rams did their best to make it tough on themselves. But, they willed their way to the win, and they did it the Larry Eustachy way by out-rebounding a bigger UTEP team 39-26.
“Coach was preaching that literally since we won the game in Alaska,” senior forward J.J. Avila said. “He was talking about how they got 19 offensive rebounds on us last year so we knew that we had to block them all out. They missed a lot of easy layups and we got those, so that helped out a lot, but we didn’t give them any second chances I think really.”
A messy opening sequence saw the Rams go up 7-5 before Eustachy called timeout less than four minutes into the game so he could calm things down.
His team came out refocused and immediately went on a 9-0 run. They never looked back although the Miners never went away either. UTEP cut the lead to as little as one point with about 9 minutes left in the second half, but that was as close as they would come.
Back-to-back three pointers from Stanton Kidd and Daniel Bejarano put the Rams up 58-50 with 7 and a half minutes left in the game but even then the Miners were not done fighting. They clawed their way back and actually had a chance to tie at the buzzer but the desperation three-point attempt from C.J. Cooper was no good.
“We found a way to win,” Eustachy said. “We had things go wrong, and when it was time we made plays.”
While CSU really had to grind this one out, the masterful performance Avila turned in also helped. He finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
Kidd had quite an outing as well, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists. After the game, he pointed out how strong of a passing team they can be when big men are finding players like Joe De Ciman and Gian Clavell moving to the basket.
“If you cut and cut hard J.J. will find you,” Kidd said. “It’s the same with me. Cut hard and I will find you. Just make plays. Just make simple plays and it’s so easy.”
Clavell came off the bench in the first half to score 10consecutive points for the Rams, including a big dunk in the lane after Tiel Daniels found him slashing down the middle.
CSU showed a lot of promise offensively but it did not always last. It was their ability to frustrate the Miners by outhustling them for loose balls and crashing the offensive boards that allowed them to stay in control all night.
Julian Washburn led UTEP with 16 points and was responsible for stopping the Rams early run. Vince Hunter was the Miners leading scorer heading into the contest, and had posted a double-double in every game this season before CSU. Hunter was held to just four points and four rebounds while committing four turnovers and making just two of nine field goal attempts.
“We were well aware of Vince Hunter,” Eustachy said. “This was the first time he hasn’t had a double-double. We were talking about it a lot and working hard, and I think it finally showed up in the game.
Eustachy said earlier in the week that the tougher team would win, and that UTEP was “really tough”.
He was right on both counts. They showed their toughness in battling back to make it a close game instead of letting the Rams pull away.
But, CSU proved to be a bit tougher, and it got them the win.
“It was great that we could play in spite of adversity and still win,” Eustachy said.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.
Photos by Abbie Parr