Defense, defense, defense.
When the Colorado State men’s basketball team brings it on the defensive end, good things happen. As was the case Friday afternoon where the Rams stifled a Southeastern Louisiana offense that came into the day averaging 81.2 points per game while on their way to a 67-59 victory.
The Rams were sound defensively, limiting the Lions to just 34 percent shooting from the floor and 32 percent from behind the 3-point line, where they were shooting 42.2 percent on the season. CSU (4-1) held SELA (4-2), who had just beaten UTEP 72-56 on Friday, to a lowly 19 points in the first half.
Players said afterward that the buy-in on the defensive end has been head-and-shoulders above what it was a year ago. The goal on that end of the floor is to keep their opponents’ shooting percentage underneath the 40 percent threshold, which they’ve done in four of their five games thus far. When they do that, they have a chance to win a lot of games.
“Everybody is buying-in. Last year we didn’t really buy-in on defense,” Emmanuel Omogbo said. “This year we know our offense is not going to be there. There’s not one great offensive player on this team. The next thing we have to do is get a stop, if we keep stopping guys we are going to score eventually.”
Head coach Larry Eustachy said afterward that he loved the lines of communication going on between himself, staff, and players, which also may be fueling some of the buy-in Omogbo mentioned.
This is not going unnoticed by the boss, either. SELA was one of the highest-flying offensive teams in the country, and the Rams answered the bell and shut them down, in large part. The Lions had three players averaging double-figures, and CSU held two of them under six points while Marlain Veal, who was averaging 19.2, led all scorers with 20.
“This team has done things that last year’s team could never do,” Eustachy said. “We held the 15th most-efficient team in the country offensively to 19 points in the first half. I thought they got tired the second half, but they were really trying to score in the first half and we held them to 19. When you can do that, you have a chance to win.”
Omogbo recorded his second double-double in as many games and his third over the last four outings, scoring 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting will pulling down 16 rebounds. This came a day after his late father’s birthday, and the way he played Wednesday afternoon was an excellent gift to him.
“It was an emotional game for me because it was my dad’s birthday yesterday,” Omogbo said. “I kind of just wanted to do something nice as a birthday gift.”
Devocio Butler also reached double-figures, netting a career-high 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Butler has been in a bit of a slump the first few games while adjusting to the transition from Hill Junior College in Texas. Friday may have helped him turn the corner going forward.
“After the first few games I was in a slump, trying to transition from JUCO to DI. The game is different, it’s faster, players are bigger, the competition is better,” Butler said. “I’m just trying to find my groove, get my confidence back and just be more aggressive.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half. CSU shot 26.7 percent from the field while SELA was at an abysmal 21.4 percent clip. The Rams were the far more aggressive team in the first stanza, CSU went to the free throw line 14 times, making 10 of those attempts while SELA only cashed in four points from the charity stripe. Butler and Braden Koelliker were the top scorers in the first half with seven points apiece.
The scoring picked up in the second half as both teams found more of a rhythm offensively. CSU stretched their lead to as much as 17 with 13:42 left, but the Lions were pesky and seemingly didn’t go away. They minimized CSU’s runs and kept things interesting, but never got closer than eight down the stretch.
CSU will finish off a three-game home stand with a Sunday match up against Alcorn State at 12 p.m. MT.
Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at sports @collegian.com and on Twitter @michael_roley