A rollercoaster fourth quarter helped the CSU Rams notch a 32-point comeback in their win over Saint Mary’s. The Rams were down by eight and were down by 17, then went on a 17-3 run in the fourth, securing a 64-59 victory over the Gaels on Sunday night.
Coach Larry Eustachy made a call on the last play of the third that the team will have to live with. He put the ball in the hands of senior guard Anthony Bonner, who was by far the biggest and most crucial difference maker of the game. Bonner scored 12 points in the final frame to keep the Rams’ hopes alive against a mighty Gaels team.
“I made a decision on the last play and the guys made it happen,” said Eustachy. “We believed in the guy who played poorly all night and were prepared to play other guys if we had to. As long as we believe, nobody has any excuses. If they think they can get by they have a better chance than if they don’t. That last play is my call and if people want to argue with me they are all welcome to it.”
With just two games left in the regular season CSU (24-10) has the inside track on the Mountain West regular season title, but it isn’t clear that the Rams are the team to beat going into the conference tournament. The Nevada Wolfpack, BYU Cougars and Boise State Broncos are all capable of pulling off a victory and beating the Rams would only take another monumental performance down the stretch. The fact that the Rams needed a major performance in the final minutes is evidence that the team’s confidence level is still very high.
Once back in the locker room Bonner was on fire. And once he got going the rest of the team followed suit.
“Our seniors have been resilient,” said junior forward Tiel Daniels. “They’ve been through the downs and know what it’s like to win and to lose. They come in and tell us that we can do anything that we put our minds to. They have done a great job of inspiring us and keeping us in the game.
“It’s awesome. To be down by 17 with only a couple minutes left we knew we had to make a run. I was happy that Anthony stepped up and made shots. Everyone was doing the right thing on the floor and it just showed in the win.”
If the game was anyone’s at the beginning, it was Saint Mary’s (23-9). The Gaels, the number one seed in the tournament, jumped out to a 16-4 lead on the Rams in the first quarter, holding a 26-10 advantage. Bonner put up a valiant battle against the Gaels in the first half, but it seemed the Gaels just weren’t going to go away.
“They are a very explosive team,” Bonner said. “They are a physical team, and we knew we had to defend. We were struggling a little bit early, but I just wanted to get the ball inside, but they were locking us down.”
Bonner’s 12 points in the first half really highlighted the struggles of the Rams offense. Saint Mary’s was holding the advantage in nearly every category and it would have been much easier for the Gaels to put the game away had their offense failed.
Things started turning around for the Rams early in the second half when the team moved to a zone defense. The only number that mattered for the Rams was their shooting percentage. At that point the Rams started hitting their shots and Saint Mary’s started missing. Their poor shooting started to wear on the Gaels as they failed to find the hoop. The Gaels had difficulty holding onto the ball for long periods of time as the first half seemed to last forever.
Saint Mary’s will be hoping to bounce back when the Gaels return to action on Wednesday when they play host to San Diego State, who they lost to in the Mountain West title game. The Gaels will also get the benefit of playing at home. Fortunately for Saint Mary’s, all that means they will just have to worry about the Rams and their loss, as their fate in the tournament will rest in their hands.