The CSU/UNM melee and why sportsmanship needs to still matter

Joe Furstinger of New Mexico, who took out J.D. Paige late in Saturday's game in Fort Collins. Credit: Brian Losness, USA TODAY Sports

Does sportsmanship still matter?

If you’re a lover of sports, of athletic achievement, of a damned determination to complete something special, no matter the odds; then, to you, sportsmanship needs to still matter.

But, from what we’ve seen lately, sportsmanship is a dying art form.

Rewind to Saturday afternoon, with the New Mexico Lobos in Fort Collins to face the Colorado State Rams men’s basketball tea, for what would become a contentious clash on Moby Arena’s court. The game got chippy and New Mexico was able to walk all over the Rams with an 84-71 victory. The contest was physical, with 52 fouls called, four technicals handed out and, when the game nearly erupted in a fight, two Lobos assistant coaches were tossed from the arena. They were Terrence Rencher and Chris Harriman.

Now, if you follow CSU hoops, they’re not a team to fight people. Or to even pretend they will. The only instance over the six years of covering the team I remember is J.J. Avila and that Air Force player coming to blows in 2015 when Avila was tackled to the court in a dangerous manner while going after a rebound.

The Rams are no schoolyard bullies. They are a physical, hardworking team who must scrap for everything they can in order to win, but not bullies.

On Saturday, though, a fight almost broke out at Moby Arena due to some incredibly poor sportsmanship by the Lobos; specifically one player, Joe Furstinger, and from the coaching staff.

With 2:16 to play, the Lobos leading by 16 points, they inbounded the ball and J.D. Paige, playing hard on defense, was blind-sided by a block from Furstinger. While Paige hit the floor with a furious force, and began to writhe in pain, Furstinger turned away, towards his bench and flexed, clearly proud of what he’d done.

Then, Furstinger trotted down court and bumped into Anthony Bonner, pushing him, before play was stopped due to Paige’s injury. That’s when Prentiss Nixon got upset with Obij Aget of the Lobos and those two nearly set off a fight. Rencher and Harrima, the New Mexico assistants who were thrown out of the arena, received that reprimand for going onto the court to stop their players from fighting.

After the physical game, Rencher stood outside Moby and outside his team bus, along with assistant coach Alan Huss and G.A. Mike Nesbitt, which is where he and Rams forward Emmanuel Omogbo got into a shouting match.

Both parties were in the wrong, and it’s unclear who started the shouting match, with Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal – who caught it all on video – saying Omogbo said the first thing after the game.

What ensued was this: (See the video with cuss words blanked out here.)

Should Omogbo have threatened to beat up Rencher? No. But, should Rencher – who is nearly twice Omogbo’s age at 43-years old – have continued to stand his ground and tell Omogbo “Take that loss, boy”? No.

Simply, Rencher, the man in power as an assistant coach, and the one representing the winning team that afternoon, should have simply walked himself onto the team bus outside Moby and waited until it departed.

Instead, he was an agitator, an instigator and worst of all, a gloating winner.

Following the ugly display, by all parties involved, and due to a “he said, he said” situation, the Mountain West decided the best result would be to have each university hand out their own punishment. Immediately after the incident, Neal said Rencher did nothing wrong. A few days later he released a statement saying Rencher would be reprimanded.

Rencher also released a statement reading:

“I want to apologize to my family, UNM, CSU and everyone affected by the incident and I acknowledge my fault in the situation. I should have walked away. The situation could have been diffused and I am very regretful of that momentary lapse in judgment. I don’t know Emmanuel personally but he seems to be a good person and good teammate.”

It continues, “I want to reiterate that I did not instigate the confrontation and that I never once made light of his tragedy or made racially derogatory remarks to him. To be painted in that light is truly disappointing to me. Those types of accusations are very hard to recover from and are totally and unequivocally false. I am hopeful we can all learn from this and move forward.”

Here’s the thing, though: Rencher did instigate the bad blood between the two teams, dating back to last season, his first with the Lobos as an assistant coach.

In the video of his confrontation with Omogbo, the Rams senior forward – who was on the team last season – yells “You did this last year.”

Fred Richardson, also a member of the 2015-16 Rams told Matt Stephens of the Coloradoan that Rencher talked trash to him pregame last season. And, in an interview on Tuesday morning, I talked to Antwan Scott, formerly of the Rams, with him confirming that Rencher talked trash from the bench to Richardson all game long, last year.

“He said something at the beginning of the game, but I don’t really remember,” Scott said Tuesday. “But it was mainly him and Fred. It was him and Fred (talking trash to one another).”

“He was saying something to me, I don’t really remember,” Scott continued. “No, I know what it was. The first half I didn’t really make any shots, the second half I started making shots, so when I went back down court I was looking over at him like, ‘I don’t hear you now.’”

For an assistant coach to sit on the bench and yell at opposing college-aged players is simply unsportsmanlike. For an assistant coach to do it pregame, during the game, and then post-game, is not befitting a leader of young men.

But, there’s something else the coaching staff did during the game on Saturday which was unsportsmanlike: Sending Furstinger on a head-hunting mission.

Was the block clean? Yes. Was it necessary? No way.

Here, determine for yourself if this play was needed at the point and time it happened:

Remember, New Mexico led by 16 with 2:10 to play when the foul occurred. And it wasn’t just that Furstinger was trying to give his point guard some room to dribble, which is customary in the game of college basketball, he was trying to take Paige out.

It’s clear as day when he turns, elated, and flexes as if he’s the HULK. Believe me, you wouldn’t like Furstinger when he’s angry, nor Rencher.

That violent block, which was completely unnecessary, flared emotions, nearly turning a spark into a wildfire.

That block, clean as it may be, was unsportsmanlike.

And it wasn’t just the outlandish display by New Mexico’s Rencher and Furstinger as well as CSU’s Omogbo, but another unsportsmanlike situation occurred last night.

After a scuffle – in which punches were thrown – in the Siena – Rider game, Rider head coach Kevin Baggett decided to take his team off the court, in a loss, without shaking their opponents’ hands. The result was Siena coach Jimmy Pastos shaking the hands of imaginary players.

At first glance, a coach pulling his team off the court and not shaking his opponents’ hands is unsportsmanlike, too. But, when putting it into context, the most unsportsmanlike thing of all is fighting during a game.

Simply, if you love sports, you need sportsmanship. Coaches yelling at players – their own – to pump them up and help them learn lessons, is perfect. Players trying to help their team win, not trying to level the opposing player for fun.

Those unsportsmanlike actions – which we saw during and after the CSU-UNM game – are what lead to the fight in which we saw in the Rider-Siena game. Fighting has no place in college basketball, neither do coaches talking trash to opposing players or sending out head-hunting missions which could injure.

Tonight, Colorado State (11-7) faces Fresno State (11-7) in Fresno, California. The game tips off at 9 p.m. MT and the Rams, who are down to eight players due to multiple ineligible athletes, are likely hoping for a sportsmanlike contest on the hardwood.

Editor’s note: Chris Harriman’s name was written, incorrectly, as “Harrima” in the first publication of this piece. Also, assistant coach Alan Huss was misidentified as head coach Craig Neal. We have corrected and apologize for the errors.

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