Going into Saturday night's contest between the Colorado State Rams and the New Mexico State Aggies, the Rams knew it wouldn't be an easy road win. Starting center Tiel Daniels and top scoring reserve Gian Clavell both stayed in Fort Collins with injuries as the rest of the team traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico for their final non-conference game . Colorado State escaped Las Cruces with a 58-57 overtime win to get to 13-0 on the season.
Colorado State's offense got off to a very slow start and never really picked up. The Aggies started the game with the hot offense, getting out to an early 12-4 lead over the Rams. The Aggies stayed in the lead for the majority of the half until a pair of Joe De Ciman free throws gave Colorado State their first lead of the game with 1:21 left in the first half. The Rams held on for a 22-20 first half lead.
New Mexico State responded quickly to open up the second half and got back up by six points points within the first four minutes of the half. The Rams and Aggies battled back and forth for the remainder of the second half until it looked like the Rams would be able to sneak past the Aggies with a 51-48 lead with only 10 seconds left. Aggies guard Ian Baker had another idea, and sank a three point shot with four seconds left on the clock to bring the game into overtime.
Colorado State struggled from the free throw line for the majority of the game which was a main reason why New Mexico State was able to keep up. The Rams opened the overtime period with two missed free throws by J.J. Avila, which then allowed the Aggies to go ahead with a DK Eldridge three point shot in their first possession of overtime. Avila responded for the Rams by finishing a contested layup and sinking his 'And One' to tie the game.
New Mexico State's Paskal Siakam finished an 'And One' opportunity of his own on the next possession of the game, giving the Aggies a 57-54 lead with 1:20 left in the game. John Gillon, in his first start with Colorado State, made a driving layup to put the Rams down by one. Strong defense and a putback by Avila off of an offensive rebound gave Colorado State a 58-57 lead with only 31 seconds left on the clock. Strong defense on New Mexico State's next offensive possession made it appear as if the Rams were going to get away with the win, but two consecutive offensive rebounds allowed Siakam to get to the free throw line with only four seconds left and an opportunity to take the lead.
Siakam missed both of his free throws however and Avila came down with the rebound. Avila then had a chance to seal the game with free throws with three seconds left, but missed both of his free throws as well. With a chance for a lost second shot, New Mexico State attempted a full court pass but failed as the ball soared over everyone's head and went out of bounds. Colorado State was then able to run out the remainder of the time left on the clock.
It wasn't pretty, but the Rams were able to fight through adversity and get the win without two key players. Avila led the Rams in scoring and rebounding, with 19 points and nine rebounds, four of them offensive rebounds. Stanton Kidd added 13 points. Gillon scored seven points of his own, while De Ciman had a silent but productive night with six points and eight rebounds. Fred Richardson III went 4-4 from the free throw line and 1-2 from the field for six points in his second game as a Ram.
The absence of Clavell was apparent with the lack of offensive production. The reserve who averages 10 points a game is typically Colorado State's spark from long range. Without him, the Rams shot 0-9 from three point range. Daniel Bejarano, who averages 12 points a game, went scoreless on 0-10 shooting but did lead the team with five assists.
Shooting 35 percent from the field and 61.5 percent from the free throw line looks like a recipe for a loss, but strong defense kept Colorado State alive. The Ram defense forced 17 turnovers and held the Aggies to 38 percent shooting from the field.
With the win, Colorado State moves to 13-0 to reach the longest winning streak in school history. Up next for the Rams is their first conference matchup, hosting the 10-3 Boise State Broncos on Wednesday, December 31st. Daniels and Clavell are both expected to return to the lineup against Boise State as the Rams will look for a stronger offensive performance. The game between the Rams and the Broncos can be seen on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain, with tip off scheduled for 7:00 pm MST.