Hustle and physicality matter as much as anything else in basketball.
The Colorado State men’s basketball team showed that once again Saturday afternoon with a 72-63 victory over Colorado. Under the tutelage of coach Larry Eustachy, an inexperienced and struggling Rams squad defeated its rival for a second consecutive year.
Winning the hustle stats proved beneficial for the Rams as they out-rebounded the Buffs 46-32 on the day. CSU brought down 13 offensive rebounds and connected for 13 second-chance points.
That hustle was most important late in the game when CU cut a 17-point lead to six in a minute-and-a-half. With under three minutes remaining in the game and CU in full control of the momentum, Che Bob pounced on a loose ball to secure possession and reenergize the Rams.
That mindset is something Eustachy has preached throughout his CSU career. More importantly, these Rams have bought in.
“We always want to be the first ones to the loose balls, we always want those 50-50 balls,” guard J.D. Paige said. “The main thing was to come out and play with energy. We did that tonight and we got what we wanted.”
During CU’s late-game run, the Rams failed to convert a field goal for the final 7:40 of the game. Despite the buckets not falling, CSU stuck to what it knows best: defense. Paige checked back into the game and immediately shut down CU guard McKinley Wright, who had amassed an 11-0 run all by himself.
Their success on the defensive end despite the late struggles show growth in a young Rams team still finding its way.
“That just speaks on our defense,” Paige said about the late offensive letdown. “That’s all defensive consistency right there. Coach always says that we have enough points to win, it’s always about getting stops and we did that today.”
Defensively, the Rams played as sound a game they have all year. Their physicality in the paint showed in Nico Carvacho’s four blocks. Che Bob also added three swats as the Rams totaled nine blocks on the day.
CSU forced 15 turnovers compared to seven from CU, allowing them to play into their offensive tempo in the first half and finish the Buffs late.
“I think the stats show it. We out-rebounded them, had more steals than them, had more blocks than them and got to the 50-50 ball on the ground first,” guard Prentiss Nixon said. “That was the goal to come into the game and be more physical. That’s the goal of every game…It will put us in a situation to win at the end of the game.”
The win comes at an opportune time for a Rams team who had lost four of its last five. The first of a three-game stretch where CSU plays a Power Five team, this game shows glimpses of what CSU knows they can be.
“This team is so cooperative and resilient. Our team knows how we have to play,” Eustachy said. “We really wanted to control the tempo and then it’s always been physicality and rebounding and guarding the right way. When we played it right, they really struggled.”
Collegian sports editor Colin Barnard can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_.