CSU men shake off rust to beat Illinois-Chicago 74-61

In one of their best defensive performances this year, the CSU men’s basketball team rolled to its eighth win of the season by beating Illinois-Chicago 74-61 at Monday night at Moby Arena. After a 12-day break between games, the Rams showed the type of offensive rust you would expect after that long of a lay-off. But led by 18 points from junior guard Jon Octeus and ten points apiece from JJ Avila and Daniel Bejarano, CSU avenged one of its two non-conference losses from a season ago and improved to 8-4 on the year.

After their most recent loss December 11th against rival DU, Bejarano lamented CSU’s lack of effort as the Rams were outrebounded for only the second time all season.

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What a difference a little time off can make.

Led by 15 rebounds from Bejarano, CSU controlled the glass all game, outrebounding the Flames 43-31 including a 15-7 advantage on the offensive end. On a night when CSU started 3 of 15 from the field and shot only 36% in the first half, it was key for the Rams to get on the boards early and often.

“We were just trying to limit them to one shot and then go, we just got the job done tonight and there wasn’t any yelling involved,” Bejarano said.

Despite their shooting woes, CSU took a 30-23 lead into halftime behind nine offensive rebounds and only one turnover, compared to three offensive rebounds and seven turnovers for UIC. Both teams found their rhythm early in the second frame and traded blows until the Rams broke it open with a 6-0 run midway through the half that extended their lead to 12. From there, UIC never got closer than 12 despite 18 second-half points from standout shooting guard Kelsey Barlow.

As CSU heads into its final non-conference game of the year Saturday against Lamar, head coach Larry Eustachy couldn’t help but be impressed with how far his young team has come through 12 games.

“For this group to be 8-4 is pretty miraculous,” Eustachy said. “I thought our effort was outstanding tonight and that’s what we expect from these guys.”

The Rams now have two days off for the Christmas holiday, time Octeus and Bejarano plan to spend relaxing and watching some of their favorite Christmas movies. “I’ll be here watching The Grinch and rebounding,” Bejarano joked while Octeus invited any interested parties to watch the Home Alone trilogy with him.

CSU will look to end the non-conference portion of their schedule with a win Saturday against Lamar. The game tips off at 2 pm and will be broadcast on the Mountain West Network as well as over the radio on ESPN 105.5 FM.

Men’s basketball beat reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @kpopecollegian.