Colorado State looked like a team that could make the NCAA Tournament in the first half of Sunday’s game against CU.
The second half? Not so much.
In what was by far their best 20 minutes of basketball of the season, CSU jumped out to a 52-39 lead over in-state rival Colorado, hitting seven of its 10 three-pointers while shooting 59.4 percent from the field. Then, the worst thing that could have happened to the Rams, did. Halftime.
Out of the break, CU used a 15-1 run over the first 4 ½ minutes to retake the lead, 54-53. CSU guards Gian Clavell and John Gillon, who combined for 29 points in the first half, suddenly went ice cold in the second half and the Buffaloes took advantage, knocking off the Rams 88-77 in front of a near sellout at Moby Arena. In the second half, CSU shot just 22 percent from the field, and was outscored 28-2 in the paint in the second half.
“I think you saw the team that we could be in the first half,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “We played great defensively, and in the second half we were the complete opposite. And (senior forward) Joe’s (De Ciman) answer to me was that we just thought we had the game won, in spite of you telling us they were down 15 against Auburn, and in spite of how we played in the UTEP game. We have to get that fixed.”
CU hit five of its first eight shots after half, including two three-pointers by 6-foot-10-inch forward Wesley Gordon, who previously hadn’t made a three-pointer all season.
The Buffs extended their lead to as many as six points with 12:04 to play, but hot shooting from Antwan Scott, Joe De Ciman and JD Paige would bring the Rams back into it, with De Ciman’s third three-pointer of the night tying the game at 68 with 9:30 to go. With a chance to take the lead, CSU turned the ball over twice and missed two layups on its next four possessions.
Neither team could stretch its lead to more than four points until the 3:44 mark, when a layup by CU guard Josh Fortune gave the Buffs a six-point lead.
CSU was unable shoot its way back into this one, though, as the Buffs took an 11-point lead with 1:44 to play and never relinquished it, exacting a bit of revenge after CSU upset the Buffs 62-60 last year in Boulder.
“We just got complacent in the second half,” Clavell said. “We just shot ourselves in the foot, we got complacent, the same thing as against UTEP. We didn’t play defense, and we didn’t rebound. They didn’t beat us, we beat ourselves.”
Josh Scott, who had only scored a total of 12 points in his previous three games against the Rams, led CU with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Gordon added 15 points and 12 rebounds and Fortune pitched in 16, despite shooting 0-for-5 from the three-point line.
Clavell, who scored 13 first-half points, led the Rams with 18 points, and Scott added 17. Gillon scored all 16 of his points in the first half, and shot 0-for-5 from the field in the second frame.
The loss is CSU’s third in a row after starting the season 5-0, while the Buffs have reeled off six wins in a row after a season-opening loss to Iowa State. The Rams will look to end their losing skid Wednesday against Division II Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.