Feb. 8, 2014
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Colorado State men’s basketball team erased a double-digit deficit on Saturday afternoon en route to a 68-56 road win over in-state rival Air Force in front of 3,781 fans at the Clune Arena.
The Rams (14-10, 5-6 MW) trailed the Falcons (9-13, 3-8 MW) by as many as 10 points in the first half, and eight points in the second half, but completed the comeback behind a double-double effort by junior forward J.J. Avila (20 points and 13 rebounds), and 18 points - including a pair of daggers from three-point range - by junior guard Jon Octeus.
Colorado State, which entered the game ranked fourth nationally at just 8.9 turnovers per game, was uncharacteristically careless with the basketball in the opening stanza, committing 14 first-half turnovers against Air Force’s press. The Falcons made the most of the extra opportunities, notching a 10-2 advantage in points off turnovers in the first 20 minutes to push their lead to 10 points, 23-13, at the 5:11 mark of the half.
“As poorly as we’ve played in the first half, we played probably the best basketball we have all year in the second half,” said Head Coach Larry Eustachy of the Rams’ comeback effort. “You just don’t come in here and beat these guys. They (Air Force) are not a lay-down team.”
Fortunately, Eustachy’s Rams don’t lay down either. CSU cleaned up its ball-control issues, committing just four second-half turnovers and used a dominating performance on the boards – 47-17 including a 21-6 edge on the offensive glass – to mount their comeback.
Avila and Octeus sparked the Rams’ offense in the second half after sophomore guard Joe De Ciman posted 11 points in the first half to keep the Rams within striking distance. And while Daniel Bejarano - the Rams’ leading scorer in conference play - struggled from the field in the contest (1-for9 FGs), his buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the first half helped the Rams swing momentum in their favor as the team headed into the locker room trailing by just three points, 28-25.
After the Falcons scored the first four points of the second half, Avila rattled off eight straight points for the Rams to pull the game even, 33-33 with 14:41 left in the contest. The Falcons answered with a three-pointer by Tre’ Coggins - who finished with 19 points - and pushed their lead back to seven points, 44-37, before the Rams regained the advantage with a 10-0 run between the 9:33 and 6:29 marks of the second half. The run included five points each from Octeus and senior forward Gerson Santo, who finished with eight points and eight rebounds, and gave the Rams their first lead, 47-44, since an 8-6 edge in the first five minutes of the contest.
The see-saw battle saw two more ties and two more lead changes in the next two minutes of the game, but after the Falcons tied the game 52-52 with 4:33 to play, the Rams closed the contest on a 16-4 run sparked by an Octeus trey at the 3:39 mark that pushed the Rams ahead 55-52, and another with 1:57 remaining that pushed a six-point CSU lead to nine points, 62-53.
“That’s something that’s come with the amount of playing time I’ve been getting and the situations we’ve been put in,” said Octeus of his confidence to step up and hit those late three-pointers. “As the season goes on, you get to learn and know how to approach those situations. I credit that to the amount of work we put in in practice, and outside of practice.”
Junior guard Dwight Smith gave the Rams some quality minutes down the stretch of the game, pulling down seven rebounds and adding two point and two steals in 19 minutes off the bench. His bucket with 4:55 to play put the Rams ahead 52-50 at the time, and he followed that up with an offensive rebound that extended the Rams’ possession and eventually led to Octeus’ first three-pointer.
Bejarano finished with five points and five rebounds, well below his season averages, but he added a game-high six assists in the contest.
The Rams have a quick turnaround before returning to the court on Tuesday against Mountain West newcomer Utah State. Tipoff between the Rams and the Aggies, coached by former CSU head coach Stew Morrill, is set for 7:15 p.m. MT and the game will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network. The game has been designated a “Gold Out” of Moby Arena, and fans are encouraged to wear their gold CSU gear to the game.
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