‘Magnificent Seven’ have Larry Eustachy under their thumb, and it’s working

Larry Eustachy. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports

Larry Eustachy is a man bursting with personality, bubbling with interesting quotes.

Especially after wins, on a high of adrenaline and caffeine from the multiple Diet Cokes he’s chugged down during the game.

Saturday night, after his Colorado State Rams’ 20th victory of the season, which helps them hold onto a tie for the lead in the Mountain West Conference, it was classic Larry being Larry.

“I want to start by saying there’s been special moments in my life, but, you know this obviously has been a season of its real ups and downs,” Eustachy began the postgame presser. “When they announced my name with such a large crowd and the applause I felt, the warmth I felt from our fans really meant as much to me as something’s meant to me in a long time.

“And then, I basically bought a ticket and just watched a game.”

Eustachy kicked back and watched the game, like a fan, because as he explained, “San Diego State is so good defensively, they make you look bad offensively.” Which is exactly what we saw for nearly the entire contest out of Colorado State on the offensive end.

It’s no secret that Eustachy’s brand of basketball is built around defense first, rebounding second and then way down at the bottom of the priorities list is offense. He allows his players to do whatever they want to with the ball in their hands, taking deep 3s – too many Saturday night, finishing 7-30 beyond the arc – which, for most basketball players is a dream come true. Sometimes it works well for the Rams – scoring 75-plus points in 14 games, going 13-1 in those – and sometimes the offense is so disjointed it resembles a group of guys hooping at the rec.

But, that was earlier in the season. As this up and down year has moved forward, and the roster slashed from 10 to a mere seven players, chemistry has improved incredibly. With only seven young men able to play due to three academically ineligible players and many more DI transfers waiting on the bench, the “Magnificent Seven” was born.

And, with that few players, Eustachy acknowledges he’s just along for the ride.

“I have no hammer on any of them. If they don’t want to listen, they can choose not to listen. I can’t put anybody else in,” he said. “I’ve never had a team that has me so under their thumb. It’s usually the other way around. But, give them credit; they haven’t taken advantage of it. They’ve continued to listen. I just love the support they’ve given me through tough times all year.”

Those tough times include losing the ineligible players as well as the expose on Eustachy’s coaching tactics, which created a “culture of fear” according to a study which was conducted in 2013-14 in which former AD Jack Graham suggested the head coach should be fired. Instead, the head coach wishes the focus would be on the positive side of the program and his connections with his players.

“I mean, there’s some great stories today,” Eustachy continued. “Greg Smith was here. Dorian [Green] was here. Pierce [Hornung] is my assistant…John Gillon texted me twice in the last three days. Write that.”

Smith, Green and Hornung were famously integral members of that 2012-13 Rams team – Eustachy’s first in Fort Collins – which was arguably the greatest in Colorado State men’s basketball history. They not only went 26-9, they went onto the NCAA Tournament and even won a game, beating Missouri, before losing to eventual champion Louisville in the third round.

Ironically, of the five teams Eustachy’s coached, the only team which was more in control than this current “Magnificent Seven” was that 2012-13 team. They were five seniors, many of whom played together for most of their childhoods in Nebraska, and Eustachy was in his first year at CSU. Smith and Co. did whatever they wanted to on the offensive end, which allowed that team to flourish, to be ranked in the Top 25 poll for the first time since the 1950s and to set the standard for Eustachy’s Colorado State teams since. That season, the “orange out” against San Diego State was a sellout and the “Moby Madness” during that game was something special, indeed.

It all came full-circle Saturday night as Eustachy’s Rams – in their alternate orange jerseys – beat the pesky Aztecs in front of a near sellout crowd which brought that madness back to the ancient arena for the first time all year.

Trailing for 38 minutes of the game, CSU took the lead late on a free throw, but then quickly lost it again. Down two, Eustachy decided to forego a timeout as it would allow SDSU to draw up a defensive scheme and the ball found its way to senior, emotional leader Emmanuel Omogbo. The 6’8” Omogbo caught the ball outside the 3-point arc, where he and teammates couldn’t buy a bucket all night long, and after hesitating, he rattled home the first game-winning shot in his life.

Omogbo, who lost his parents and 2-year old niece and nephew in a fire 13 months ago, was embraced by fans after the shot as they rushed the court. A few minutes later, he came back onto the court, which was swamped by fans, to celebrate along with them. It was all part of Omogbo’s “thank you” to fans which he declared in November.

“That what we really have going on here is a lot of love and heart,” Eustachy said as he concluded his postgame presser. “And that’s what won this game.”

Eustachy’s in control, there’s no questioning that. But, when he steps back just a little bit, it’s amazing how the players respond on the court. Behind the scenes, players current and former have rallied around Eustachy in one of the most turmoil-filled seasons likely in his 26-year coaching career. Still, he has them in position to win the Mountain West while he simultaneously has himself in position to earn bonuses on his already $1 million salary.

As he exited Moby Arena Saturday night, a Diet Coke in his hand and a giant grin on his face, Eustachy told a group, “Just like we drew it up,” of Omogbo’s heroic 3-pointer to win the game. Everyone laughed at the charismatic coach as he took home his 509th career victory.

Love him or hate him, Colorado State Rams fans are likely pulling for Larry to push their team through the Mountain West Tournament next week – an improbable three wins in three days needed – and back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012-13.

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