FORT COLLINS | It went from bad to worse for Colorado State on Saturday.
A game the Rams kept close for most of the first half turned into an offensive onslaught by New Mexico in the game's final twenty minutes. Couple that with a hard, blindside screen from Lobo forward Joe Furstinger on CSU guard J.D. Paige with UNM up 16 points and 2:10 remaining in the game - which left Paige sprawled out on the court for several minutes - and the result was flaring tempers and verbal altercations.
Ultimately, the Rams lost 84-71 to the Lobos, dropping CSU to 11-7 overall and 3-2 in Mountain West play. But what may be remembered most from this UNM beatdown was the physical play, high frequency of whistles, and a seemingly unnecessary pick play that left a CSU player temporarily injured (CSU head coach Larry Eustachy and senior guard Gian Clavell both said after the game that Paige was only briefly rattled).
Eustachy and Clavell also explained after the game that the screen play was legal, but it only compounded the mounting frustration for the Rams, who couldn't get their shots to fall in the second half.
"(Paige) just ran into a screen, it's as simple as that," Eustachy said. "But this started before the game with just some things that we don't do, and we got caught up in it - the moment."
CSU came into the big home contest with high hopes against a New Mexico team that had lost its previous three games. While the Lobos may have been on a rare losing streak, the fact remained that CSU had its work cut out in stopping one of the Mountain West's best guards, Lobo point guard Elijah Brown, and stifling a frontcourt pair of Tim Williams and Obij Aget that out-sized the Rams.
As it turned out, CSU couldn't do either. Brown earned two fouls within the first seven minutes of the game, but UNM head coach Craig Neal's risky decision to reinsert his star guard into the game for the final seven minutes of the half paid off, as Brown led the way for the Lobos with 15 points. The bulky guard was an issue for CSU all game, as he finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, nearly earning a triple-double.
Brown's abilities to score on the perimeter and create for New Mexico's bigs inside were the difference in the game. Williams was a monster inside, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds. The presence of Williams and Aget inside forced CSU into foul trouble, as five of the seven Rams who played - Emmanuel Omogbo, Prentiss Nixon, Gian Clavell, Anthony Bonner, and J.D. Paige - each finished the game with four fouls. Many of those fouls came in trying to block Williams or UNM's driving guards.
New Mexico also out-rebounded the Rams 39-29, while scoring 10 points in transition. Once the Lobo lead reached 20 in the second half, CSU began to lose some of its fight.
CSU shot under 36 percent from the field, relying heavily on the three-ball because of an inability to consistently penetrate inside. The result was a 7-for-22 clip from deep. UNM shot a whopping 55 percent from the field, which included 67% from three-point range.
The loss puts a damper on an otherwise strong start to conference play. For the remainder of the season, CSU will be down to seven total players following the ineligibility of Che Bob, Devocio Butler and Kimani Jackson. The Rams travel to Fresno State on Wednesday for a 9pm tipoff.