“They wanted it more,” said Wolf Pack guard Malik Story, who scored a game-high 31 points in a 73-69 loss to the Rams in front of a crowd of 6,226. “They just played like a veteran team and we didn’t respond.”
The Wolf Pack has now lost seven of its last nine games, including three of its last four at home, to fall to 11-11 overall and 2-6 in the Mountain West. The Rams won for the fourth time in a row to improve to 19-4, 6-2.
“It’s frustrating,” Pack coach David Carter said. “The guys are disappointed. We’re playing better but now it’s a process of maturing and that‘s not happening right now.”
The Rams, the top rebounding team in the Mountain West, won the game on the offensive boards. Their 20 offensive rebounds led to 20 second-chance points and a 46-30 rebounding edge.
“They are constantly moving,” Carter said. “So you are in motion against them instead of blocking out.”
Jerry Evans led the Pack with seven rebounds but also found it difficult to rebound against the taller Rams. Colorado State’s 6-foot-10 center Colton Iverson had 16 boards and 6-6 forward Greg Smith had a dozen.
“They set a lot of screens so I just could stay with them all the time,” Evans said. “It’s very hard to rebound against them because of the screens. My back was turned to the basket a lot of times and I just couldn’t get the ball.”
The Rams dominated the boards despite playing without their leading rebounded for all but three minutes. Pierce Hornung, the leading rebounded in the Mountain West at 9.8 a game, played just three minutes because of the flu and didn’t score or pull down a rebound. Iverson and Smith, who were averaging a combined 15 boards combined entering the game, made up for Hornung’s absence by pulling down 28 combined.
Smith also scored a career-high 28 points, 17 more than his average. Smith hit 11-of-17 shots and scored 18 points in the first half.
“Greg Smith picked up the slack,” Carter said.
The Wolf Pack took a 33-31 lead at halftime, thanks to Story’s 15 points. The 6-foot-5 senior took the game over during a stretch of 2:16 when he was the only player on the floor to score. His 11 consecutive points on three 3-pointers and a 10-foot jumper, gave the Pack a commanding 17-6 lead with 14 minutes to go in the first half.
Story, who had a season-high seven 3-pointers against Colorado State, is now just one 3-pointer away from the Wolf Pack career record of 227 by Marcelus Kemp from 2004-08.
“We fought hard,” Story said. “We had them by 12 (20-8 with 12 minutes to go in the first half).”
Story also drained a three for a 26-15 lead with eight minutes to go until halftime. His sixth 3-pointer tied the game at 53-53 with just under 10 minutes to go and his seventh and final try gave the Pack a 62-57 lead with seven minutes to go.
“We got too comfortable, especially myself,” Story said.
Story didn’t want to talk about the seven 3-pointers he made or the 31 points he scored after the frustrating loss.
“I took some bad shots,” said Story, who was 11-of-17 from the floor and 7-of-11 on 3-pointers.
Story missed a 3-pointer with the Pack up 62-59 with 5:28 to play and missed a wild 3-pointer with six seconds left with the Pack trailing 73-69.
“He took some bad shots,” Carter said. “He’s a fifth-year senior. That’s just another sign of, ‘You have to grow up.’ That just puts too much pressure on your defense when you make a bad play.”
Story, though, was the only player in silver and blue doing anything on offense. His 31 points moved him past Luke Babbitt into 12th place on the Pack’s all-time scoring list with 1,319 career points (Babbitt had 1,316). Point guard Deonte Burton was the only Pack player in double figures with 11 but the junior was just 3-of-10 from the floor. The rest of the team was a combined 8-of-28 from the floor for 27 points.
“We only had two players with more than two field goals,” Carter said. “You just can’t do that in Division I.”
Iverson had a lay-up as Colorado State took a 69-67 lead with 40 seconds to play. Four free throws by Wes Eikmeier (11 points) in the final 23 seconds put the game away.
The Pack, though, had a chance to pull even with the Rams in the final minute. Trailing 69-67, guard Jordan Burris turned the ball over on a pass intended for Burton with 28 seconds to go.
“We wanted to get Deonte the ball at the elbow,” Carter said.
“I totally lost sight of the ball,” Burton said.
The Wolf Pack, now 9-4 at home after going 16-2 at Lawlor last season, also believes it lost a game it should have won. The Pack will host Air Force at Lawlor on Saturday (3 p.m.).
“There’s been a lot of losses,” Story said. “That doesn’t leave a good taste in your mouth.”