New year, new team, same old Moby Arena.
The ancient arena sat mostly empty Sunday afternoon, likely due to another team (the Denver Broncos) playing at the same time, but some Ram faithful were in attendance, and they got an eye full of the newcomers — partly because they have to play with Gian Clavell suspended indefinitely.
Braden Koelliker, a mature junior college transfer due to his two-year mission trip, led Colorado State with 11 points early, making 7-8 from the free throw line. Another new JUCO transfer, Che Bob, led the team with six rebounds at the break, playing with toughness inside. But CSU trailed to the New Mexico State Aggies 32-29 due to poor shooting by the Rams (26 percent) and nine turnovers. The game wouldn’t have been so close without the Aggies’ eight turnovers of their own.
CSU stormed out of the halftime break looking to get to the rack, scoring repeatedly in the paint by playing aggressively. Emmanuel Omogbo, Preniss Nixon and Koelliker — spinning through the lane smoothly — all scored early and CSU took the 33-32 lead, their first since 2-0.
In the second half, there was Koelliker, continuing to consistently knock down free throws (13-15 in the game), while Bob gave all-out effort rebounding the ball. Bob’s smooth drive on one fastbreak led to an and-one, giving the Rams an eight-point lead with 6:52 to play.
With the game on the line, Koelliker took over, driving the lane for an and-one (though he missed the free throw), giving CSU a seven-point lead with 2:16 to go. After back-to-back three-point makes by the Aggies — making it a four-point game — there was Koelliker to rebound an errant shot by Omogbo, and Koelliker was fouled, making both free throws. He finished with a game-high 21 points.
Still, the Aggies kept it close, clawing to within two points with 28.6 seconds to play when J.D. Paige poked the ball away. He went 1-2 from the line, which didn’t salt away the win, and Marion Jones of NMSU missed a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Rams won.
Bob, with his eight rebounds, was a major reason why the Rams controlled the glass with ease, 47-35 over the Aggies. Of course, staunch defense and solid rebounding are keystones to Larry Eustachy’s brand of basketball and his Rams played like a “Team Together” today.