Three times this season the Colorado State men’s basketball team got off to a sluggish start at home.
Tuesday night wasn’t that much different. This time though, it nearly cost them.
The Rams fell behind early to Abilene Christian University, a team from the Southland Conference that won just 10 games last season and finished dead last in its league. It took more than 35 minutes of game action for the Rams to finally wake up, and when they did, CSU found itself in the middle of a dog fight the Rams eventually took 108-100 in double-overtime. The win moved CSU to 4-0 this season and extended the Rams’ non-conference winning streak to 20 games. It also moved the program to .500 in its history, with CSU now sitting at 1202-1202 overall.
John Gillon led the Rams with 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists, leading six CSU players in double figures. Center Tiel Daniels chipped in a double-double with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and Antwan Scott came off the bench to score 18 points in 43 minutes of action.
CSU fell behind 10-3 early, but was able to rally back to retake the lead on an Antwan Scott layup with 11:37 to play in the first half. The Rams led the rest of the half, stretching their lead to as many as 12 with just over three minutes to play. But a late 9-0 run, capped off by a buzzer-beating baseline jumper from ACU’s Drake Green cut the CSU lead to three at the break.
“We always get teams’ best bullets I feel like,” Gillon said. “I knew they were going to come out and play hard, and we came out soft. We came out maybe underestimating them a little bit. Our whole staff did, too. From the coaches to us, we just didn’t prepare the right way and that’s what happened.”
Out of the break, ACU took the lead, one it wouldn’t relinquish until late in the half, extending the margin to as many as seven with 7:20 to play. Two consecutive and-ones from Daniels brought the Rams back even at 60 a piece with 4:35 to play.
The Rams found their shooting streak over the final four-plus minutes though, with Gian Clavell and Joe De Ciman connecting on consecutive 3-pointers to retake the lead with 3:36 to play.
ACU wouldn’t go away though, using a baseline layup by Jovan Crnic to take a 73-71 lead with 2:20 to go.
A free throw from Tiel Daniels and a running layup by Antwan Scott gave CSU a 74-73 lead with 53.8 seconds to play.
Two more free throws from junior guard John Gillon gave the Rams a three-point lead with 23.4 seconds to play, but ACU’s Jovan Crnic wasn’t ready to go home, hitting a 3-pointer from about 23 feet at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. After his basket, Crnic celebrated a little too much for the liking of CSU’s players.
“Yeah, it was terrible,” Gillon said of Crnic’s celebration moves.”That’s why they lost, because of that.”
Daniels chimed in: “He’s not doing that now. He was chirping the whole game, saying ‘I told you I was going to hit the big shot.’ We got the last laugh, though.”
The teams traded baskets, and leads, in the overtime period but a three-point play from Clavell and two free throws from Gillon seemed to be enough to end it. But like Crnic, Austin Cooke wasn’t ready to be done, and the senior forward drained a 3-pointer with three seconds to play to send the game to double-overtime.
Scott took over in the second extra period, hitting two 3-pointers and finishing out an and-one, helping to seal the Rams first double-overtime victory since a 95-89 win over TCU on Jan. 14, 2012.
“Somebody told me there were like 37 lead changes in our last two games, so if you’re a season-ticket holder and you’ve been coming, you’ve gotten your money’s worth already,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said.
The 100-point performance was also the Rams’ first since a 109-55 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma State on Dec. 8, 2013.
CSU now heads on the road to Corpus Christi, Texas to play the final two rounds of the Corpus Christi Coastal Classic tournament. The Rams will face Portland Friday night at 6:30.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.