As Jordan Cornish’s 3-point attempt at the final buzzer hit the back rim and bounced into J.J. Avila’s hands, the 7,113 pumpkin and alfalfa-clad fans at Moby Arena let go of a collective sigh before breaking into a wild celebration.
In one of the best college basketball games you could have witnessed this season, the CSU men’s basketball team did just enough to hold off a UNLV team headlined by two future NBA draft picks in Rashad Vaughn and Christian Wood.
The Rams are now 6-0 all-time in “Orange Out” games, including three wins over rival Wyoming, and one each over San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV. Two of the last three have been sellouts and all six have seen attendance numbers greater than 5,200.
Though it only means putting on a different jersey, and in head coach Larry Eustachy’s case, a different-colored long sleeve dress shirt, there seems to be a difference when the Rams rock the old-school throwbacks.
“I think there’s something different about it, I really do,” Eustachy said after the Rams’ 83-82 win Saturday afternoon. “It costs (a little extra) money to buy an orange shirt, and I didn’t see many green or white shirts. My wife managed to spend a lot of money on hers so I think it’s really cool and it shows the commitment (of our fans).”
I have long criticized Ram fans for their lack of commitment to the program and still believe that every home game from here on out should be sold out. But Saturday afternoon, Moby was at its finest, with raucous student sections on both ends and a similarly loud crowd in nearly every seat in between. Down 18 in the first half, CSU was on the verge of a bad loss that would have all but eliminated the Rams’ hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But following a 3-pointer from Wood, CSU responded, and so did the crowd at Moby.
A jump hook from Tiel Daniels started a quiet buzz. Then a 3-pointer from John Gillon brought a loud cheer from the CSU faithful. Next was an emphatic two-handed slam from Stanton Kidd that lifted fans onto their feet. With each basket during a 19-2 CSU run to end the half, the decibel level in “The Whale” rose a little bit until it hit deafening levels when Kidd buried a corner 3-pointer as time ran out in the first frame.
Just 20 minutes earlier, you could have heard a pin drop in the arena as UNLV raced out to a 36-18 lead. But as it should, the crowd at Moby and the home team fed off of each other, pumping life into the other little by little.
The trend continued in the second half, with each CSU basket being greeted by a chorus of cheers and screams. The only thing missing was the “Truffle Shuffle” guy from a few years ago who would shake his “assets” to excite the crowd. But what Moby “lacked” in overweight, dancing college males it made up for in pure craziness.
There aren’t many places quite like Moby Arena during a game like this, and this sportswriter can only hope to see it continue that way. Maybe CSU will we indulge me and just switch to the orange and green full time.
“We look good in these jerseys,” senior Daniel Bejarano, who is 3-0 in his three seasons at CSU, said. “We only get to wear them once (a year), so you have to get a win in them.”
Now if I could just get myself a pair of those pumpkin and alfalfa-striped socks, though.
The Pope has spoken.
Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.