The season is officially over for the Colorado State men’s basketball team, though it may have really ended three days ago.
The Rams lost to South Dakota State 86-76 in a chippy contest on Wednesday night, ending the most winningest season in program history. The loss eliminates them from the National Invitation Tournament.
“One game is not going to define us, particularly in a game where we really gave what we had left in the tank,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “We were just late the whole day. The whole game, just a step behind. But again, give (SDSU) credit. They had a lot to do with it.”
J.J. Avila led CSU with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but it was not enough to stop the Jackrabbits’ balanced offense, or his team’s own struggles from the free throw line. The Rams went 19-for-34 from the charity stripe.
George Marshall had the hot hand for SDSU, leading the way with 24 points while going 5-for-9 from downtown. He was one of four SDSU players to finish in double digits.
“They took care of the ball,” CSU forward Stanton Kidd said. “They had outstanding guard play, and the tougher team won. They made shots. They came in on the road and they got the job done.”
CSU went up 5-3 early, but that would turn out to be its only lead of the game. SDSU went on a big run fueled mostly by outside shooting. A three by Marshall pushed the lead to 21-9 about midway through the first half. The Rams responded with a 9-0 run but the Jackrabbits held them off by capitalizing on open jumpers.
SDSU pushed the lead to as much as 44-28 while the Rams connected on just one of their first 10 3-point attempts. CSU gained a little momentum on a three at the buzzer by Gian Clavell to end the first half down 47-38. It was the most points the Rams allowed in the first half of any game all season.
The energy picked up in the second half and CSU was able to cut the score to 49-47 on a three by Daniel Bejarano, but the Jackrabbits were able to answer in turn with threes of their own, as they did all game.
“We had a run, and then we had some miscommunications,” Bejarano said. “We just beat ourselves.”
CSU was able to will its way to the free throw line in the second but was unable to convert enough from there to really cut into the lead. Avila finished off an and-one to narrow the gap to 66-61 with 7:47 left to play before a pair of threes by Deondre Parks and Jake Bittle pushed SDSU’s lead back to double-digits.
That would turn out to be the closest CSU came for the rest of the game, as the team just was not able to get stops when needed.
“I must have said four times (throughout the game), ‘this is the biggest stop of the year – we have got to get a stop,’” Eustachy said. “Then bam, they hit a three, or we couldn’t stop their penetration.”
Bejarano said that there was no lack of energy due to the disappointment of not making the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard focused on what the team was able to accomplish in the regular season.
“I wouldn’t want to be with any other guys,” Bejarano said. “We fought hard, so 27-7 is not bad.”
Kidd echoed his statement, saying that its been the best nine months of his life.
“These are my brothers, those guys in the locker room are my brothers,” Kidd said. “Like Daniel said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Kidd finished with 14 points and eight rebounds, all of which came on the offensive glass, and Bejarano finished with 17 points and nine rebounds in the last game of their college careers.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.