There were under five minutes left in the game.
Larry Eustachy, the one-of-a-kind, 62-year-old Colorado State basketball coach in black who proudly plays the role of heel in every visiting Mountain West arena walked to midcourt and whispered something into the ear of 38-year-old UNM coach Paul Weir. The latter was sporting a cherry red sweater and bright white tennis shoes for the Coaches vs. Cancer promotion going on around college basketball Saturday.
The two slapped hands and went back to their benches.
The exchange came about when it appeared any chance the shorthanded Colorado State Rams had at making a comeback were over. Weir’s Lobos cruised from there for an 80-65 win in front of another boisterous Dreamstyle Arena crowd announced as being 12,438 strong.
“I brought the fans back,” was what Weir recalled the veteran Eustachy saying, referring to preseason comments he made that were published again in Saturday’s Journal in which the CSU coach called UNM the “worst job in the country.”
After walking up the Pit ramp following the loss, Diet Coke in hand, Eustachy recalled asking Weir, “Do I get a cut of the gate for my comments? Do I get a piece of it?”
Joking aside, Eustachy had more to say about this season’s visit to Albuquerque — this time something those same Pit fans who booed him relentlessly throughout Saturday night’s one-sided contest might actually like to hear.
“If I had to vote for coach of the year today, I’d vote for (Weir),” Eustachy said. “He has a way. You can never go by scores early (in the season), you know? He has a way he thinks the game should be played and he gets his team to do it as well as anybody in the league. They really do. … They depict their coach as well as anybody in this league. They play the way he wants them to play.”
Saturday, the way Weir wanted the Lobos to play, he said, was as tough as a Eustachy coached team.
Four Lobos scored in double figures, UNM scored 30 points off 23 forced turnovers by the Rams and assisted on 23 of their 28 made field goals, never trailing in the game. The win put UNM at 11-11 overall and at 6-3 at the halfway point in the 18-game league schedule and alone in third place in the standings.
Colorado State, playing without its two leading scorers due to injury, fell to 10-13 overall, 3-7 in league.
Though CSU has been struggling, Saturday’s game “scared” Weir, who feared a letdown.
“We haven’t arrived because we have beat San Diego State and UNLV (last week),” Weir said. “Those are two basketball games that are long in our past.”
Antino Jackson had 12 points and 11 assists for the Lobos, most of the assists coming on drives into the lane during which he drew in multiple Rams defenders and made a short pass to a Lobo big man for a layup or dunk.
Troy Simons, the Lobos junior guard who hasn’t played since he was ejected from the Jan. 3 Boise State game and served both a league- and a team-imposed suspension geared toward allowing him to get better control of his on-court emotions, hit three 3-pointers, scored 13 points and came up with a game-high four steals in just 17 minutes on the court.
As relieved as Simons clearly was to be back on the court, nobody was happier than the Lobos’ bench players after every play Simons made in his return.
“I’m really happy for him because he deserves it,” Jackson said. “He took a little time off and I think he gets it now. I think he’s going to be a big part of this journey.”
CSU was led by 17 points from Deion James, and 14 points and 15 rebounds from Nico Carvacho, who had eight offensive rebounds and led the Rams to an enormous advantage on the boards.
Asked if he would have believed his team would have won knowing they’d be outrebounded 35-15, Weir said, “If you told me the turnover count was 23 to 7, I’d say yes.”