Without a heart and soul, can the Rams still live?
Pierce Hornung, the man that does anything and everything his team needs, could only play three minutes in the first half due to a stomach bug that left him drained physically.
The Rams had no physicality.
They were killed on the boards by Nevada to start the game, and allowed the Wolf Pack to jump out to a 20-8 lead. At that point, Greg Smith had all eight.
Smith was relentless going to the rim in the first half and even hit a few jumpers. He put up 18 points before the break and carried Colorado State offensively for most of that period. The rest of the Rams could score only 13 and they were down by as much as 12 points before they put together a late run and found themselves down 34-31 at half.
But things started going CSU's way in the second half. Smith posted a new career high with a quick three out of the break, and he just kept adding to it. His step-back, turnaround, fadeaway jumper on the baseline for his 23rd point was NBA-level basketball, and he was grabbing rebounds all game long as well.
Without Hornung, center Colton Iverson became the most important man on the court. He really ramped up his physical play in the end of the first half, and finally scored his first bucket two minutes into the second. But when he dunked it emphatically to give the Rams a 48-40 lead, it looked like the Rams could run away with another win.
That wasn't the case.
Nevada wasn't intimidated and they went on a 13-2 run to take the 57-55 lead. Malik Story was the story of the game for the Wolf Pack, he was on fire from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 31 points. And while he was Nevada's offensive spark, he couldn't overcome the Rams' team play.
When Daniel Bejarano and Wes Eikmeier were quiet all game long, they turned it on in the end – Bejarano grabbed important rebounds and scored a layup off the glass after being hit, while Eikmeier hit four straight free throws to ice the 73-69 victory.
No doubt, Iverson, with his 16 rebounds, and Smith, with 28 points and 12 boards, were the story for Colorado State as they held on to win a difficult game on the road without Hornung. In all, four Rams scored in double digits and they out-rebounded the Wolf Pack 39-27 despite the tenacious Mr. Hustle being sick.
For Colorado State, the gutsy win improves their record to 19-4 overall, 6-2 in the tough Mountain West to keep them in second overall in the conference. It's their fourth straight win and second straight on the road, where they're 4-4 on the season.
They're off for a week now, not playing a game this Saturday, and host San Diego State (16-5, 5-2 MWC) next Wednesday at 8 p.m.