USAFA, CO – Enjoying their time as a nationally-ranked program, the Colorado State Rams take their act on the road Saturday afternoon as the 24th-ranked squad clashes with the Air Force Falcons in Mountain West Conference action at Clune Arena.
With 20 wins in their first 24 games of the season, the Rams and head coach Larry Eustachy have tied the program's best start in school history (1953-54) to this point in the campaign. The latest victory for CSU took place three nights ago with a 66-60 triumph over San Diego State at home which means the Rams have now won 27 straight home dates which is one of the longest runs in college basketball heading into the weekend.
Colorado State is now 7-2 in conference play, which has the team sitting in second place in the MWC standings behind only 19th-ranked New Mexico heading into the weekend.
As for the Falcons, the reached a minor milestone of their own earlier this week as they snapped an 11-game losing streak to UNLV by defeating the Runnin' Rebels at home, 71-56. In addition to finally breaking out against the Rebels for the first time in several years, Air Force also snapped a brief two-game slide on this season in order to move to 6-4 in league play and into a tie for third place in the standings with San Diego State.
The battle between these two conference and state rivals has been dominated by the Rams over the years, 69-31, although CSU leads by just a single game, 15-14, with both teams being members of the MWC. The Rams posted a lopsided 79-40 romp over the Academy in the first meeting of the season last month in Fort Collins.
Using just two players off the bench who combined for 11 points, the Rams leaned heavily on their starters and got positive results as Dorian Green tallied 16 points and handed out six assists in the win over SDSU on Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd. Greg Smith contributed 15 points, seven boards and four assists, followed by Pierce Hornung with 12 points, eight rebounds and four dishes of his own. Colton Iverson logged a game-high 11 rebounds as the team beat the Aztecs on the glass, 43-31.
In conference play, the Rams are outscoring the competition by more than 10 ppg as they hold those foes to just 37.6 percent success from the floor. Colorado State continues to demonstrate a huge advantage on the glass as well, outrebounding MWC teams by more than 13 boards per game thanks to Iverson who is averaging a double-double with 11.6 points and 11.1 rebounds per contest. Hornung checks in with another 9.9 ppg and 8.0 rpg in order to give the Rams a crushing front line at the moment.
Beating the Runnin' Rebels was one thing, but the fact that Air Force actually handled the visitors on the glass, 35-24, had to have been a major shock to everyone involved. Obviously, Mike Fitzgerald knew full well that the Falcons needed to play tough in the paint just to have a chance and he showed up to score 18 points and pulled down eight rebounds for the hosts. Michael Lyons connected on 11-of-21 from the floor as he finished with a game-high 27 points, followed by DeLovell Earls with another 12 points as the Academy hit on 51.8 percent from the floor in order to overcome 16 turnovers.
Playing close to 35 minutes in conference games, Lyons is leading the group in scoring with his 16.6 ppg, although his 27.3 percent accuracy on the perimeter is still a big disappointing. Fitzgerald (14.1 ppg) tries to pick up some of the slack beyond the arc where he has nailed down 45.5 percent of his chances, the same goes for Todd Fletcher (9.9 ppg) who has made good on 39.5 percent from long-distance for a team that is averaging 7.5 triples per contest.