Call it the biggest game in the history of Moby Arena, possibly in the history of basketball at Colorado State University.
Whatever you call it, the Rams didn’t show up to “The Whale” hell-bent on winning, and they lost much more than one game to the New Mexico Lobos Saturday.
Gone are the hopes of winning the Mountain West Conference. Over is the school record 27-game home winning streak dating back to November of 2011. That first top 25 ranking since 1954? You can kiss it goodbye.
“It was pretty plain and simple, I think the tougher team won,” head coach Larry Eustachy said in the postgame presser. “Give New Mexico all the credit.”
Toughness, physicality and that killer instinct are what the Rams have lived on this season, at least since their back-to-back losses to the Colorado Buffaloes and UIC Flames way back in early December. Especially at home.
They won close ones in front of 3,000 fans, and blew out teams in front of some real Moby Madness in recent weeks, but in arguably the loudest and craziest environment of the year Saturday, the green and gold sent their fans away disappointed.
Sure, the Rams fed off the crowd’s energy and led by as much as six late in the first half, but only took a three-point lead into the break.
In the second half, the game tightened up even more, until CSU gained momentum and pushed their lead back to six points with 6:40 to play. Dorian Green had a chance to inflate it to nine, but missed a big three, and the Lobos responded by going on an 11-0 run. New Mexico controlled the contest from there on out, winning 91-82 on the strength of 46 points by Kendall Williams and solid team play.
“I would say their team was far more determined than us. Starting at me, on down,” Eustachy continued. “It starts with me and ends with me.”
And when I asked him if his team has lost focus, he replied, “I think that’s a big part of it. I think we got caught up in the being on posters…I think so. I think we forgot what got us on the posters.”
Wes Eikmeier and Green after the loss were downtrodden, visibly upset with their play. During the game, the guards and their teammates were obviously fatigued.
Eustachy asks his team to play with all-out effort, winning every inch of the floor every night. When they do, they win – usually easily – with grittiness, guile and determination.
But, could it be that very style has fatigued the Rams too much early on for them to play the right way now?
Eustachy employs only a seven-man rotation, but when he was asked about it, he scoffed at the idea of his team being too tired to compete.
Eustachy also clarified he knows how to cure what’s ailing his team.
“I know exactly what the answer is. This team needs to listen and they need to execute better. And take it from the meeting room to the practice court and then it’ll show up in the game. And this coach has got to do a better job of explaining that in the room, on the court for it to show up in the game. That’s the answer.”
Their next test comes Wednesday as Colorado State (21-6, 8-4 MW) hosts the Fresno State Bulldogs at 7 p.m., and they’ll be looking to start a brand new winning streak, or lose their third straight contest for the first time all season.