Avila’s last-second shot lifts CSU to win over New Mexico State

In a knockdown, drag-out brawl of a game against New Mexico State that featured 46 fouls, the CSU men’s basketball team used 29 points from junior forward JJ Avila to hold on for an 85-83 win in front of 3,693 fans at Moby Arena. None of those 29 were bigger than his go-ahead layup with two seconds left that accounted for the final basket of the night and led the Rams to their fourth consecutive win. With the win, CSU improves to 6-2 on the year and completes a 4-0 sweep in the Colorado State Challenge.

In a first half where both teams struggled from the field, it was CSU’s ball handling that made the difference. The Rams turned the ball over only four times and used a 12-2 advantage in points off turnovers to take a 35-33 lead into the break. One of the biggest surprises of this year’s squad has been their ability to take care of the ball, something not expected from a group with such little experience together.

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However, the second half would tell a much different story with both teams finding their rhythms offensively and combining to hang a hundred points on the big screen at Moby Arena. Although the Rams struggled to contain New Mexico State sharpshooters DK Eldridge and Daniel Mullings, it was Avila who took over in the second half scoring 23 of his 29  in only 17 minutes of work. While he’s struggled at times this season being too unselfish with the ball, head coach Larry Eustachy was impressed with Avila’s aggressiveness tonight.

“He was really aggressive tonight, he makes a couple silly plays now and then but in my mind he can’t shoot too much,” Eustachy said.

On a night when junior guards Jon Octeus and Daniel Bejarano combined to shoot just 8 of 29 from the field, Colorado State needed every one of Avila’s 29, most of which came in the second half while playing with four personal fouls. While both struggled from the field, Bejarano and Octeus both made big contributions elsewhere with Bejarano totaling 15 rebounds to go with 11 points, while Octeus dished out 8 assists, none bigger than his no-look pass to Avila on the final play of the game.

“I just drove to the basket looking for the lay-up and then I saw JJ out of the corner of my eye so I just dropped it to him and he finished,” Octeus said.

Likely the most impressive stat of the night once again came on the glass where CSU limited 7’5 center Sim Bhullar to only eight rebounds in 29 minutes of action. The Rams turned around a 23-20 deficit on the boards in the first half and ended with a 45-39 advantage including 18 offensive rebounds compared to only 9 for the Aggies.

After completing a little more than half of their non-conference schedule, the Rams head into what many consider to be the biggest game of the year against rival Colorado. While CU guard Spencer Dinwiddie predicted a Buffs’ win last season, don’t expect to hear any trash talk from the Rams ahead of Tuesday night’s matchup.

“We’re just going to come out and play the game, it doesn’t matter who it is,” Bejarano said. “If they were the “big brother” school they would beat us every time but it always goes back and forth with who wins. We don’t really like to get involved in all that talk, we just play the game.”

Tip-off for Tuesday night’s game is at 7 pm and will be broadcast on ESPN3.com as well on ESPN Radio 105.5 FM.

Basketball reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @kpopecollegian.