A season that began with such promise has become a familiar tune as the Colorado State men’s basketball team fell 86-84 to BYU Saturday night at Moby Arena, dropping the Rams’ record to 1-6 in the Mountain West Conference and 12-8 overall.
Coming off a passionless loss on Wednesday to rival Wyoming, the Rams had hoped to recapture their winning ways with energy, effort, and passion. They hustled down loose balls, shot 58.3 percent from the field, won the battle on the boards 34-24, and recorded 8 blocks to their opponent’s 4.
But somewhere along the way, the Rams stepped on a pop-top and blew out their flip-flops as they committed 24 turnovers, which led to 30 easy points by the Cougars. Combined with a strong bench effort by BYU, it was enough for the Cougars to hold off the Rams in a furious finish.
“I thought we played with great intensity,” head coach Dale Layer said. “It was a terrific game, we had two good shots there at the end, two good looks at it and it didn’t go in. I thought it was a much better performance from our team. Can’t ask for much more heart. We made some mistakes, we were impatient at times, that was probably our downfall. I thought we were impatient, especially our bigs trying to do too much. But I liked the effort, I thought we got better tonight. It’s a disheartening loss, but hopefully good things will come from it.”
CSU began the game looking like the up-tempo team of the early season, jumping out to an early 14-3 lead, fueled by a pair of Cory Lewis steals and lay-ups. BYU was struggling with the Rams’ full-court pressure and only BYU’s Brock Reichner was able to solve the Rams on the offensive end as he scored his team’s first 10 points. At the 12-minute media timeout, the Rams led comfortably at 22-13.
Wholesale substitutions for the Rams had slowed their momentum and the game turned over the next four minutes as BYU went on a 23-6 run that was punctuated by back-to-back dunks by BYU’s Trent Plaisted. The run pushed BYU into a 36-28 lead, which the Rams were able to cut to 43-41 at the half.
The second half began with the teams trading baskets until a 9-0 BYU run pushed their lead to 55-47. CSU cut the deficit to a single point but another BYU run, this one 11-0, pushed their lead to 68-56. The Cougars held a 74-65 advantage at the 6-minute mark when CSU began a furious comeback.
Smith and Lewis led the effort and it was punctuated with a Stephan Gilling 3-pointer that gave the Rams a 78-77 lead with 2:56 left and brought the crowd of 4,043 to its feet. But CSU took a timeout following the basket, and it silenced the Ram faithful. BYU, which did not have any timeouts left at the time, was able to draw up a play, and ran it to perfection. Reichner drained a 3-pointer from the wing and BYU never relinquished the lead again.
A late 3-pointer by Jason Smith gave the Rams hope at 85-84 and when BYU’s Balderson turned the ball over, the Rams were gifted a final chance to win. Smith worked his way to the edge of the paint and his 8-footer hit the back iron and fell out. After a BYU free throw, a late effort on a Gilling drive was knocked away and the Cougars were left to celebrate a hard-fought victory.
"We got down early tonight, but we've shown that we have the character to overcome challenges and have good results,” BYU head coach Dave Rose said. “Both teams played hard tonight and left everything out there on the floor. I'm just proud of our guys for finishing it off and getting the win."
BYU’s Jimmy Balderson took game-scoring honors as he came off the bench to record 24 points. Reichner added 23 points and 5 assists before fouling out and freshman center Trent Plaisted added 15 prior to fouling out.
"Jimmy really stepped up tonight, and (Reichner) played like a leader and settled things down," said Rose. "Trent made the big plays we needed. Those are the guys that we need to play well in order to win and they did for us tonight."
Leading the way for CSU was sophomore forward Jason Smith who scored 23 points and also added 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. Lewis added 16 points and 8 assists and freshman Gilling had 11 including 3-6 from beyond the arc. CSU’s Sean Morris ended the game with 2 points and did not play in the second half due to cold shooting, Layer said.
The Rams have certainly lost their shaker of salt, and with a tough road trip to Air Force coming up Wednesday, the Rams could be looking at dropping seven of their first eight league games -- and unfathomable thought considering the way this team began the season.