With an opportunity to distance themselves from the pack a little in the Mountain West, Colorado State could not overcome New Mexico, falling 84-71 in a battle that carried beyond the hardwood.
Moby Arena was greeted Saturday afternoon with physical play and lots of trash talking. The talk came early, as the two sides swapped words before tip-off.
“There was some talking and chirping during warmups,” Eustachy said. “It all began before the game. They backed it up and we didn’t. Give credit to New Mexico.”
New Mexico head coach Craig Neal was given a technical after walking close to mid-court while yelling at his team during a stoppage of play. Neal’s technical sparked physical play from both teams. Officials gave out four technicals in total.
That was the first of two occasions in which it seemed chaos was going to erupt at Moby.
Late in the second half, with New Mexico up by 16, CSU guard J.D. Paige was blindsided by a screen near mid-court. Though it was a clean play, Paige was aggressively sent to the floor. With tensions already teetering on the edge, the screen resulted in a verbal battle between the teams.
Following the altercation, two New Mexico assistant coaches were ejected for leaving the bench in an attempt to restrain their players.
“It was a clean play,” Eustachy said. “He just ran into a screen, simple as that. The screen was legal, we just didn’t call it out. But this started before the game and we just got caught up in the moment.”
On top of this, it has been reported that a New Mexico assistant was heard heckling CSU basketball as he exited Moby Arena, saying, “Maybe you guys should focus more on studying and less on domestic violence.” As well as, “At least we don’t have a bunch of wife beaters on the court.”
I've confirmed that a UNM assistant coach yelled this at CSU players/staff as he walked out of the arena after the postgame handshake. pic.twitter.com/9hjTeaTE54
— Keegan Pope (@ByKeeganPope) January 14, 2017
Tempers carried over into the parking lot following the game, as CSU forward Emmanuel Omogbo was restrained by head coach Larry Eustachy while arguing with members of the New Mexico coaching staff.
VIDEO: CSU's Emmanuel Omogbo came outside & started argument w/ UNM coaches, Terrence Rencher in particular. Larry Eustachy pulled hom away. pic.twitter.com/Dq9CbvVOBd
— Geoff Grammer (@GeoffGrammer) January 14, 2017
Footage of the altercation shows Omogbo saying, “You’re lucky my coach is holding me back, I’ll whoop your ass”, as well as a New Mexico assistant saying, “Learn how to lose, boy”.
Aside from all the antics off the court, CSU entered the game as slight favorites but may have caught the Lobos at the wrong time.
It was a much needed victory for the Lobos, who had dropped three straight games after beginning Mountain West play 2-0. Their three game skid included a 105-104 loss to Nevada at home in which they led by as many as 25 in the second half.
“I’ve never seen a team lose in the way they lost against Nevada in all of my years,” head coach Larry Eustachy said. “This was a huge game for them. Obviously our team, with our youth, didn’t quite understand who was going to show up here.”
New Mexico was hungry for a win, and they ate.
It wasn’t until late in the first half that New Mexico began to grab the momentum that they would never lose, heading into half with a 44-34 lead.
Prentiss Nixon, who finished with 19 points, and Gian Clavell, who finished with 22 points and six rebounds, scored CSU’s first 13 points.
The Rams were hot from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the contest, converting on three of their first five attempts from distance.
CSU held an 18-17 edge over New Mexico with 10:43 remaining in the first half. The Lobos responded with a 7-0 run to build a 24-18 lead which CSU never overcame.
“They played amazing, give credit to New Mexico,” CSU guard Gian Clavell said. “They executed really well. They brought the physicality and they brought it to us.”
New Mexico, largely because of the contribution from their star guard Elijah Brown, found themselves up 20 less than seven minutes into the second half. Brown led the Lobos every step of the way and nearly put up a triple-double with 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
“He’s a great player you know, one of the best in the conference,” Clavell said. “He had a great game. As a team they shot 66.7 percent from three, you don’t see that often. The ball was going in for them today.”
The final deficit may have only been 13, but the second half consisted of no rhythm on offense for CSU and New Mexico dunking it down the Rams’ throats every chance they could. The largest lead held by New Mexico was 21 with 9:54 remaining.
“On the defensive end we got away from it, they got a lot of transition buckets,” CSU guard Prentiss Nixon said. “That’s where the lead grew so it has nothing to do with the offensive end, but the defensive end.”
The gritty defeat tightens up the Mountain West standings. CSU’s 3-2 record in Mountain West play puts them in third place, behind Boise State and Nevada. New Mexico improved to 3-3, just a half game behind CSU in fourth place.
CSU is back in action on Wednesday Jan. 18 on the road against Fresno State (10-7, 2-3 Mountain West). The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. MT and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.
Collegian Sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz