"It's pretty good," Morandais said simply of his night, on which he hit 50% from the floor, and a stellar 7-8 from the free throw line. "I think out defense was the different in the game."
Freshman guard Marcus Hall, who had a career showcase 22-point effort off the bench to lead the Buffs over Cal in their previous win, tallied just six after shooting 2-7 in 25 minutes on the floor.
The Buffs were beneficiaries of 16 CSU offensive miscues, their second-highest turnover mark of the season. Even so, the Rams were able to gain a rebounding edge over Colorado in a game which saw the teams shoot within three-tenths of a percent of each other; with Colorado State out-boarding the Buffs 41-35 on the night, including a 15-9 margin on the offensive glass.
Even with his team's statistical deficiencies, Colorado State head coach Dale Layer attributed his team's third loss of the season to one player.
"If you take David Harrison out of that game it's pretty even," Layer said following the game. "He's a difference maker in that department. He's much improved over the last year and I don't think (CSU center Matt Nelson) matched up with him well enough."
CSU's seven-foot junior center put just nine on the scoreboard, despite shooting 4-8 from the field.
Colorado State took advantage of a feisty crowd early, jumping on top of the bewildered Buffs to an 18-9 advantage helped by nine of sophomore Freddy Robinson's 12 first half points, including a clutch three-point shot just passed the 17:00 mark, starting a 7-2 CSU run which ended with Matt Williams converting an old fashioned three-point play with 14:21 remaining in the first.
Colorado countered equally quickly from the 14:00 point on, suddenly embarking on an 8-0 run over the ensuing two and a half minutes to close a lead which had existed since the tip to an 18-18 score as Michel Morandais converted a full court transition layup after stripping the ball at the other end. The Buffs would take their first lead on their next possession, as a leaning jumper within ten feet from Lamar Harris gave CU a 20-18 advantage with 10:53 on the clock.
The Rams would tie the score on its following possession, but the Buffs never again sacrificed the first half lead after a jump shot from junior David Harrison gave CU a 24-22 lead with 9:08 left. The Buffs enjoyed two separate mini-runs of 5-0 and 6-0, before closing with a 6-4 tear which saw Glenn Eddy hit three of four free throws and a thrilling transition dunk from Morandais, lifting CU to a 42-38 halftime lead.
Colorado seemed to own the tempo of the game coming out of halftime, benefiting from scoring from three different players in the half's opening four minutes, lifting Colorado to an 11-point, 53-42 advantage before a 30 second timeout by the Rams.
The Rams proved especially resilient in the face of some of the most complete road ball CU has floored this season, using its entire roster to stay within arm's reach of Colorado. A transition floater by Micheal Morris over Harrison capped a momentous stretch for CSU, bringing the near capacity crowd of 7,791 to its feet.
The four minutes following the halfway point of the second half proved CSU's ultimate downfall, as the Rams saw a four minute stretch during which forward Matt Williams scored all of Colorado State's five points, while the Buffaloes had five free throw from Morandais alone.
Colorado State's crowning low point may have come at the 8:11 mark, when CSU head coach Dale Layer was ejected from the game after receiving his second technical four of the game. A generally mild-mannered Layer had to be physically restrained by his coaching staff, after baseline official Tom O'Neill failed to whistle what Layer felt was an obvious foul on guard Ronnie Clark.
"The whistle was not the same at both ends," the three-year coach of CSU said in a press conference following the game. "I had to defend my team and I would do it again."
Colorado State was never within striking distance following the ejection of their coach. A Shelton Johnson three-pointed seemed to give the Rams a bit of hope as State cut the lead to 78-71, but Colorado closed out its fifth win of the season from the free throw line.
"(Moby Arena) is a difficult place to play," CU head coach Ricardo Patton said. "For the most part I think we showed a good portion of maturity. We won the game but quite frankly we did some things poorly."
Colorado's victory held a historical importance other than writing the newest chapter in the rivalry's 123-year history. In head coach Ricardo Patton's eight full seasons as head coach, the Buffaloes have never started a season 5-1. CU has entered games seeking the milestone on two prior occasions, losing both contests to Colorado State in Fort Collins (Dec. 2, 1997, and Dec. 8, 1999.