For the second time in three games, the Colorado State basketball team couldn’t hold onto a double-digit halftime lead. In last Saturday’s game against UTEP, the Rams blew a 17-point lead against UTEP en route to a 99-90 double overtime loss. Sunday, it was the same story, with the Rams falling apart in the first few minutes of the second half, and giving up a 13-point lead over rival Colorado. This time though, the Rams couldn’t even get it to overtime.
CSU was on fire in the first half, hitting just about any shot it took, whether it was a good or bad look. Layups, free throws, 3-pointers, it didn’t matter. John Gillon led the Rams with 16 points, and Gian Clavell wasn’t far behind with 13. Moby Arena was rocking and the Rams looked ready to run away with their second-consecutive win over the Buffs.
Then, reality hit.
Bad shot selection caught up to CSU. CU made adjustments, and started attacking the paint with gusto. The Rams lack of interior defense was made blatantly clear, and the warts that good shooting covers up all of the sudden started to appear. Missed box outs, poor closeouts and a lack of offensive rhythm reared their ugly heads, and before CSU knew what had hit them, the Rams’ 13-point halftime lead with a six-point second-half deficit.
Neither players, nor head coach Larry Eustachy are sugar-coating the Rams’ struggles in the second half lately. Joe De Ciman admitted that the team has gotten too comfortable with settling for bad shots because some of them are falling. John Gillon said Thursday night that the team wasn’t tough enough yet. Gian Clavell said Sunday that the team’s performance has been unacceptable.
Larry Eustachy has built his very successful coaching career on the principles of defense and rebounding, the former of which CSU has been abysmal at early this season. Good shooting couldn’t cover that up anymore. The first half of Sunday’s game was one of CSU’s best on the defensive side of the ball all season, and the Rams still gave up 39 points.
But as Eustachy alluded to after the game, there is one thing this team sorely lacks more than any physical skill or ability: a killer instinct.
“I think they are learning how to get that killer instinct, because in spite of being totally instructed on how this came back from 15 against Auburn, and what happened (with us) against UTEP, I mean it should just be logical,” Eustachy said. “They’re really good guys, and I think they just have to learn how to put somebody in submission and close it out.”
In CSU’s previous home games, it was the Rams who fell behind at halftime, but were able to stir up enough momentum and make enough shots to win. But it’s been a different story in the past three games, in which CSU has had a chance late to either tie or take the lead, but has been unable to.
Chalk it up to having a lot of players who haven’t spent much time on the court together. Chalk it up to early-season struggles and some shooting woes. All of those play a part, but if the Rams want to compete in the Mountain West, they’ll have to find a killer instinct — and quickly.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.