Tournament time brings tougher games under the bright lights.
When the No. 2 Rams and No. 7 Bulldogs met up at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. it was a close battle throughout.
Without point guard Dorian Green, CSU started slowly and could never find their offensive rhythm in the first half. To wit, they went into the break with a mere four assists with three turnovers while shooting 35 percent from the field. They trailed 29-26.
In the second half, the Rams regained their composure and played much better basketball. Wes Eikmeier went off and ended up leading all scorers with 18 points while the entire team rebounded better and out-boarded the Bulldogs 33-28. They also hit enough free throws down the stretch to win, something they’ve failed to do at times this season.
The green and gold won 67-61 despite playing without Green. It was a testament to their grittiness as a group because Fresno State gave the Rams all they could handle.
But playing like they did Wednesday will result in a loss to the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels on Friday.
Green started in 127 straight games, every single one in his college career, so it’s logical that they struggled to execute the offense. What we saw was too much dribbling – something these seniors have been known to do in the past – and selfish play. Eikmeier started ice cold from the field, at 0-5 in the first half, and Greg Smith excelled early. It led to the rest of their teammates standing around and watching the action. There was too much “me” and not enough “we” and the Rams offense was out of sorts.
And according to head coach Larry Eustachy, Green will be out again Friday against UNLV. “I think it’s etched in stone that he won’t play,” he said of the ankle injury postgame Wednesday. “It’s a little more severe than we thought.” At 13.1 points per game, Green is the team’s second leading scorer, so filling his void will be key.
When the Rams are at their best, they swing the ball around the horn, continually moving it from player to player. It stretches out the defense and Green’s outside shooting prowess keeps opposing players honest. Jon Octeus filled in valiantly as the starting point guard, but he can’t shoot from beyond the arc like Green and defenders sagged off of him, clogging up the middle.
They also get it inside to center Colton Iverson, who can go to work, or if doubled, pass it to a teammate. When Iverson is doubled and another CSU player cuts through the lane, he usually finds them for an easy, open bucket.
Of course, when Iverson got into foul trouble early, it stifled his production. He’s been their best player all season long, leading in both scoring and rebounding – he finished the contest at about half his usual production, only seven points and five rebounds.
On Friday, when the Rams play the Runnin’ Rebels on their home court, CSU must have big games from Iverson, Eikmeier and Smith while getting contributions from the others as well to win.
It would have already been a difficult game with Green, and without him, the entire team will be tested once again.
Tip off of CSU versus UNLV is scheduled for 9:30 p.m. Mountain and will be televised on CBS Sports Network.