Colorado State finally has a road win they can brag about in the Mountain West after downing Fresno State 81-73 on Wednesday night.
A hot start gave the Rams (22-5, 9-5 MW) a lead they would never relinquish, despite a resilient effort by the Bulldogs (12-14, 7-6 MW). CSU kept its tournament hopes alive, and did so the Larry Eustachy way, out-rebounding Fresno State 41-29.
Daniel Bejarano led the way with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. J.J. Avila also chipped in an efficient 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Bejarano said. “That was the biggest thing, knowing that we just lost. We were not trying to lose two in a row again. We only did that once this year, and we were not trying to do that again.”
After trading baskets to start the game, CSU went on an 8-0 run to take a 15-7 lead. The Rams stayed hot connecting on 12 of their first 17 shots, including a trifecta of 3-pointers from Bejarano to push the lead to 31-15.
It would not last for the entire first half though. The Rams missed their next seven shots as the Bulldogs put together a run and began to cut into the lead. Cezar Guerrero hit a 3-pointer for Fresno State to send them into the half down 37-32.
The Rams made just one of their last 11 field goals in the first half. They coughed the ball up seven times in the first half, resulting in 10 points off turnovers that were essential to the Bulldogs’ run.
“They scored off of turnovers and in transition,” Bejarano said. “… We just had to shape up. To be honest, I played bad defense this game. I just have to shape up on that, and as a team, we do too.”
Avila got his team back on track with a steal and a layup to start the second half. The Rams extended their lead back to double digits when Tiel Daniels finished a huge dunk and then completed the and-one to put CSU up 49-39 with 16:10 to play.
But, the Bulldogs still had plenty of fight left in them. Avila picked up his fourth foul with 9:29 to play and went to the bench, and while he was out of the game, Guerrero and Marvelle Harris got busy.
Guerrero completed an and-one to make the score 65-60 with 4:41 to play. He finished with a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
That was as close as it got, though. Joe De Ciman helped CSU close things out with a 3-ball of his own to extend the gap to 71-62 with 2:33 to play. He scored seven of his 14 points in the final four minutes.
“We needed a road win,” De Ciman said. “We didn’t really have a big road win.”
The Rams put the game away at the line, making 20 of 23 second half free throws, and it was their work on the glass that really staved off the Bulldogs’ comeback bid. Tiel Daniels came up with three key offensive rebounds in the second half. Stanton Kidd did some damage as well, grabbing seven boards to go along with his 11 points.
“We made free throws,” Eustachy said. “I think that was the biggest thing.”
CSU returns to Fort Collins for its next game against Air Force (12-13, 5-9 MW). The Rams are set to tip off Saturday at 4 p.m. against the Falcons. The game will be played at Moby Arena and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.