FORT COLLINS, Colo. — It started and ended with the same team.
Sort of. Because this sure didn’t look like the same Colorado State squad that visited the Pit last month.
And it certainly didn’t resemble the New Mexico men’s basketball team of the past four weeks — the one that broke into the national rankings for the first time this season on Monday and was named ESPN.com’s national team on the week.
On Tuesday, CSU got a serious measure of revenge against the 18th-ranked and Mountain West Conference-leading Lobos, winning 71-63.
“From the get-go, they were not going to back down,” CSU coach Tim Miles said of his players. “We had a hiccup here and a hiccup there, but the poise was really good. We always say, ‘look them square in the eye. Make them know you are going to be there all night to compete.’”
The Rams (17-9, 6-5) competed all night, beating New Mexico (22-5, 8-3) for the second straight season at Moby Arena.
Despite a huge height disadvantage and the absence of injured 6-foot-6 starting senior forward Will Bell, the Rams played right with New Mexico on the inside. Meanwhile, the CSU guards drove around the Lobo guards at will and out-shot them from the floor.
“They drove it all night,” said UNM coach Steve Alford. “… They played a four-guard lineup that really hurt us. They defended really hard and we had a hard time defending them. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. It was a good win for them.”
It was a great win, considering the Lobos crushed the Rams 85-52 in the teams’ last meeting. That game launched UNM on a seven-game winning streak, during which they won every game by double digits — including at then 13th-ranked San Diego State 77-67 last Wednesday and 65-45 against then-No. 11 UNLV 65-45 in the Pit on Saturday.
It was a hectic and wild few days for the Lobos, but they weren’t making any excuses. At least, starting freshman guard Hugh Greenwood wasn’t. He was the only Lobo to come out the locker room for post-game interviews by the time the Journal had to go to print.
“There are no excuses,” said Greenwood, who was 0-for-3 from the floor, went scoreless and didn’t have an assist. “We knew we should have won this game. It’s disappointing. We shouldn’t have lost. But credit Colorado State. They’re a good team, and they haven’t lost at home during conference.”
The Rams, indeed, kept their perfect MWC home slate intact. They are 6-0 at Moby in league play and 13-1 here overall.
Greenwood struggled, but he wasn’t alone.
— Sophomore guard Kendall Williams had 16 points but was 3-of-13 from the floor.
— Starting sophomore guard Tony Snell, who looked like he had snapped out of his slump with 12 points against UNLV, went right back into it on Tuesday. He was 1-of-4 for two points. He went scoreless in back-to-back games before Saturday.
— Starting senior forward A.J. Hardeman was productive when he played, but was on the floor just 10 minutes and scored six points with five rebounds.
— Senior post Drew Gordon, who was ESPN.com’s national player of the week after scoring 51 points and grabbing 37 rebounds in last week’s two games, had 13 points and six boards while committing a whopping six turnovers and getting beat inside by CSU’s 6-5 Pierce Hornung inside all night. The Rams’ junior forward had 13 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.
“I thought Hornung was the difference in the game,” Alford said. “He battled defensively. With Will Bell being out, they were short-handed underneath and I thought he did an unbelievable job defending our big (men). And to be able to score, he made his free throws and had 15 rebounds; he was the difference in the game.”
The Lobos led just once in the first half, that at 4-2, and twice in the second half for fewer than two minutes.
The Rams got a 3-pointer from guard Jesse Carr to break a 46-46 tie with 10 minutes left and put it away from the foul line down the stretch, going 20-of-23.