Who said CSU didn't belong?

SALT LAKE CITY - Two weeks ago, CSU wasn't supposed to win a game in the Mountain West Conference Tournament. Three days ago, CSU wasn't even supposed to make it out of the blizzard that blanketed the Front Range for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990. Thursday night, against arguably the most renowned college basketball program in the nation, CSU was definitely not supposed to hang with the No. 3-seeded Duke Blue Devils. Says who?

The Rams won three games in the MWC tourney, and took home the title. On Tuesday, the Rams chartered a flight out of Loveland and made it to Salt Lake City problem-free.

And on Thursday, the Rams more than hung with the big boys at the Big Dance.

The final score of Thursday night's first round NCAA Tournament game between well-known Duke and football-known CSU may have been 67-57 in Duke's favor, but it was anything but a breeze for the No. 7 Blue Devils. The Rams clawed back to within two with three minutes to go. Had CSU freshman Shelton Johnson hit two free throws and tied the game, a Rams victory would have been possible. Seriously.

Whether it was a good majority of the 14,568 people in attendance rooting for the underdog Rams, or Ute nation cheering on a fellow Mountain West Conference member, or just the fact that CSU actually had more fans than Duke, the Jon M. Huntsman Center (home of the Utah Utes) felt more like Moby Arena.

When CSU's Matt Williams was fouled as he hit a floater, and sunk the ensuing free throw, CSU pulled within three. The crowd, minus sections 14 and 15 where the Duke followers sat in utter disbelief, began chants of C-S-U.

"To be in the NCAA Tournament against Duke and have 13-14,000 people behind you when they're usually booing you off the court, it's a great feeling," said CSU forward Brian Greene, after playing his final game in a Rams uniform.

Duke's used to the best home-court advantage in the nation. It surely didn't follow the team to Utah. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said the crowd had the right idea.

"(CSU) deserved to be cheered for," said the coach who many regard as the best in the game. "Whether it was here or anywhere, they deserved it; they played their butts off. I can't believe they're a 14 seed."

Ultimately, you could tell Duke's been here before, though. When the Blue Devils' top scorer, Dahntay Jones, fouled out with just under six minutes to go, it was a sophomore (Daniel Ewing) and a freshman (Shelden Williams) who carried them the rest of the way.

"I saw those guys fighting," the senior Jones said about watching the final minutes from the bench, "and I knew this wasn't going to be my last game."

So here you have a team that has spent the most weeks ranked No. 1 in the nation since 1990 (61), the last time CSU was in the tourney, and a team with the all-time best NCAA Tournament winning percentage (76.5 percent, 75-23), going up against a team that has made just seven tournament appearances in school history. Blowout, right?

You couldn't tell that by watching this game, and you couldn't tell that by listening to a coach that has been named National Coach of the Year eight times.

"I feel like we just won a very big game against a very good team," Krzyzewski said afterward.

For CSU, it was a big game. For the die-hard and new-found CSU fans, it was an awesome game.

Hopefully, from now on, this is what CSU is supposed to do. Coach K won't be surprised.

"I knew a lot about Colorado State coming in," he said. "But I should have known a lot more, because we almost lost."

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