The Colorado State Rams are one of the grittiest teams in college basketball. They win with effort that’s extraordinary, wearing down opponents and beating them in the second halves of games with physical play.
Much was the case Wednesday night, as the Rams defeated the Fresno State Bulldogs 74-67, with lots of help from Jon Octeus‘ dominating defensive effort on Kevin Olekaibe. Following two straight losses, CSU had to win, and they were driven to do so.
“I think we played with a little chip on our shoulder,” senior shooting guard Wes Eikmeier said after the game. “Overall though, I think we can play better. For 40 minutes I don’t think we played our best. We had long lapses where we didn’t play very well.”
Eikmeier is making sure he and his teammates aren’t satisfied with the win, realizing already they could have played better basketball.
When I asked if they like to have that chip on their shoulder, Eikmeier responded, “We’ve had it ever since we’ve been here.”
These men, most of them from smaller Midwest towns, have always been the underdog, and they continue to embrace that role.
When the Rams lost a heartbreaker to the New Mexico Lobos last Saturday, head coach Larry Eustachy told the media, “I would say their team was far more determined than us. Starting at me, on down. It starts with me and ends with me.”
There’s no doubt he took it upon himself to make sure he team understands how they have to win. It’s all about working harder than their opponent – hitting the boards, fighting on defense, and getting to the hoop with toughness.
“It was very important,” center Colton Iverson said of the win. “After the last two games, we looked at it as, ‘We’re starting a new season right now.’ Four regular season games and then going into the conference tournament. And we’re coming in with a whole new mindset that we’re going to out-determine every team that we play.”
They definitely out-determined the Bulldogs on Wednesday. The Mountain West Conference‘s cellar-dweller that can still compete, even on the road, and if they want to have a chance at winning either of their next two difficult road games – against Boise State and Wyoming – the green and gold have to keep that focus on working harder than the opposing team.
Colorado State is the hands-down best rebounding team in the nation, and rebounding takes ton of energy.
It’s a thankless job – jostling with opponents, catching elbows, diving on the floor for court-burns – but it’s the way this team has to play to win. Eustachy knows the squad of five seniors and two sophomore transfers he inherited; they’re not the most athletic team around, but they are among the hardest working group of players in collegiate basketball.
As long as that effort stays consistent, Colorado State (22-6, 9-4 MWC) will not only be a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, they could even win a game or two.
In the meantime, they have a chance to set a school record for best regular season in the history of the program.
Their next game tips off at 6 p.m. MT in Boise, Idaho against the Boise State Broncos.