Rams Close Record-Breaking Season in First Round of NIT


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FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Colorado State's record-breaking season came to a close on Wednesday, falling to South Dakota State, 86-76, in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament. The Rams closed the season with a program-most 27 victories and appeared in a postseason tournament for the fourth time in the past five seasons.


Seniors JJ Avila (19), Daniel Bejarano (17) and Stanton Kidd (14) each were in double figures for the Rams, with Avila also pulling down 11 boards and dishing out four assists. CSU, though, shot just 22.7 percent from beyond the arc, and ran into a hot-shooting SDSU squad.


"They got their knockout punch, and they knocked us out," Head Coach Larry Eustachy said. "That's a tough way to end the season. Give South Dakota State all the credit; they were just tougher from beginning to end."


CSU (27-7) fell behind early behind a Jackrabbit team which shot 48.6 percent in the opening half, including seven made three-pointers. SDSU (24-10) used a 9-0 run to take a 12-5 advantage. The Jackrabbits built their lead up to double digits, and led 44-28 with 2:41 remaining in the stanza. The 16-point lead was capped with four made free throws when Kidd was called for a personal foul, and then on the second shot from the charity stripe, Avila was whistled for his second foul.


That forced Eustachy to sit his leading scorer and rebounder, but CSU responded by closing the half on a 10-3 run, including a Gian Clavell three-pointer from the corner on an inbounds play at the buzzer. With the deficit now in single digits for the first time since the 8:13 mark - 47-38 - CSU came out of the locker room on fire, extending the run to 16-3 with two quick buckets and a pair of made free throws.


The Rams would get within two, 49-47 at 17:37, on a Bejarano trey, but SDSU responded with another 9-0 run to up its lead to double digits. CSU once again countered, turning a 66-54 deficit into a five-point game. Avila made two nifty fast-break scoop shots, the second ending with an and-one to bring the score to 66-61. With the Moby Arena crowd on its feet, though, SDSU quieted the crowd with a 13-1 spurt, taking a 79-62 lead and ending any hope of a Rams' comeback.


"We just never matched their energy," Eustachy said. "We did in spurts, but if we played another 40 minutes I'm not sure the outcome wouldn't have been the same. We were just late the whole game and we were just a step behind."


Aside from the three seniors in double figures, Clavell and junior Tiel Daniels each finished with nine points. Clavell also added seven boards, as well as four assists and two blocks. Junior Joe De Ciman had three blocks, while Bejarano and Kidd each had two steals and nine and eight rebounds, respectively. CSU out-rebounded SDSU, 47-41, and recorded eight blocks and six steals. The difference, though was the shooting. CSU shot just 22.7 percent from beyond the arc and 55.9 percent from the charity stripe, compared to 42.9 and 77.8 percent, respectively, for SDSU.


"It's not about the last game," Bejarano said. "It's about the last nine months, and all the hard work this summer, the memories and stuff like that. It was a great year; 27-7 is not bad. Throughout the last nine months, that's how we are going to remember this season."


The game concludes the careers of CSU's four seniors - Avila, Bejarano, Kidd and Marcus Holt. In addition to a program best for victories and winning percentage, the 2014-15 season saw a record 14-0 start to the year, 15-2 home record, third-place finish in the Mountain West and time spent in both top-25 polls.


"It's going to sting for me; it's supposed to," Kidd said. "It's our last college basketball game as seniors. These are my brothers. I wouldn't change it for the world. I'm not proud of the way we played tonight, but overall, I'm proud of the whole team."


Added Eustachy: "I could not have asked for a better group of guys, and it's one of the better teams I've had. One game is not going to define us."