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Tempers flare in Mountain West showdown

New Mexico and Colorado State game gets ugly as in-game fighting spills into the parking lot

NCAA Basketball: Air Force at Colorado State Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to their 119th meeting on January 14, the biannual men’s basketball battles between the New Mexico Lobos and Colorado State Rams had been relatively benign affairs, with the Lobos holding a decided advantage in the series. However, that changed when in-game conflicts managed to spill into the parking lot of Colorado State’s Moby Arena.

The Lobos won the Mountain West Conference contest, 84-71, though that was overshadowed by the continued jawing during the contest. A major spark in the ensuing conflict was lit by a pair of incidents during the final six minutes. The first was a flashy dunk by New Mexico that boosted their lead to 19 with 5:53, while the latter incident saw the Lobos’ Joe Furstinger level Rams guard J.D. Paige with a hard screen.

There was nothing illegal about the pick, though the Lobos aggravated the situation when some of them were seen laughing about it while Paige was attended to by Colorado State’s trainer.

What followed was heated rhetoric on both sides that resulted in technical fouls being assessed to New Mexico’s Obij Aget and Colorado State’s Prentiss Nixon. In addition, two New Mexico assistants, Terrence Rencher and Chris Harriman, were ejected for coming onto the court to return their players to the sideline.

Had those been the only incidents involved, the skirmish might have already been forgotten. The problem was that things turned ugly as New Mexico was waiting to board their bus to return home, with Ram forward Emmanuel Omogbo claiming that Rencher referred to him as “boy.”

Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy and his wife were walking with Omogbo to their respective cars, with Eustachy holding him back in an attempt to diffuse the situation after Omgbo challenged Renner to a fight.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this confrontation was the claim of Eustachy’s wife, who stated that she reminded Rencher of the tragedy suffered by Omogbo on January 19 last year.

That was when a house fire killed Omogbo’s parents, niece and nephew. Lana Eustachy claimed that after she spoke those words, Rencher laughed. That was strongly disputed later by the Lobos, as were a number of the other accusations directed at the team.

Omgobo and Rencher have a contentious history dating back to last year, with Eustachy saying the Rencher engaged in trash-talking during a game. Also, Omogbo said that Rencher had used racially-volatile language during that day’s pregame warmups.

Besides those incidents, another unnamed New Mexico assistant coach yelled at Colorado State players and staff, referencing two past arrests for domestic violence against the Rams’ Gian Clavell. The assistant also reportedly noted that the Lobos had no players that situation, though no problems ended up resulting.

The Mountain West also released a statement on the situation.

The Mountain West has conducted a thorough review of various elements related to the New Mexico at Colorado State men’s basketball game played Saturday, January 14. This has included continuous engagement with both institutions, review of multiple video sources, collection of eyewitness statements, review of officiating reports, and the compilation of various media/social media accounts. The MW has examined all facets of the event – from pregame warm-ups through the postgame confrontation.

A number of conflicting perspectives have emerged and, in some cases, there is no definitive proof as to the responsible party or parties. Unfortunately, as a byproduct of our current electronic media society and immediate news cycle, there have also been inaccurate information and unsubstantiated reports circulated regarding what may or may not have occurred.

What has been determined is the entire incident created an undesirable athletic competition environment, and did not reflect favorably upon either basketball program, either member institution or the Conference. There were a number of errors in judgment throughout the course of the afternoon and poor decisions made by various individuals. Such conduct is unacceptable.

The Colorado State and New Mexico athletic departments have already initiated follow-up conversations with all appropriate parties to address the events of this past Saturday. Those will continue, with the institutions taking corrective measures they deem appropriate and advising the Conference office accordingly.

This bad blood is approaching “Malice at the Palace” levels. The two teams will meet again in Albuquerque on February 21, with game officials most likely on high alert for a game played in what's known as The Pit, because of the difficulty of dealing with the vocal New Mexico fans.