FORT COLLINS — Colorado State continued its stumble out of the blocks to begin Mountain West Conference play Saturday in front of a large New Year’s Eve crowd at Moby Arena.
Coming off a road loss to New Mexico to open conference play Wednesday, the Rams returned home looking to even their MW mark. Instead, they dropped to 0-2.
San Jose State outscored CSU 21-13 in the final 5 minutes, 27 seconds to pull away for a 78-70 victory. The Spartans, coached by former Rams head coach Tim Miles, improved to 11-4 and 2-0 in the Mountain West while CSU dropped to 8-7 overall.
Miles was making his first appearance at Moby since he ended his coaching tenure at CSU in 2012. He earned his first victory as an opposing coach at the arena in the process.
And while Miles has the Spartans trending in a positive direction, the Rams lost their third game in a row and will spend the next few days trying to find some answers to what has been going wrong.
“You have to give your opponent credit, every time you play against other people who prepare and practice the same way you do,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said. “I just thought our execution, particularly on the defensive end, some things really came back to haunt us. Those are things we’ve got to get corrected.
“For me, probably the biggest disappointment was our spirit at times. For some reason, we came out for the second half and just didn’t have a lot of juice. I don’t know why. We just need to play with a lot more spirit and a lot more focus.”
After a strong start to the game, the Rams clung to a three-point lead at halftime and within minutes into the second half, that lead had vanished completely.
San Jose State took its first lead at 39-38 two and half minutes into the second half and led by five at 54-49 with 11:12 left in the game.
CSU battled back, going on a 6-0 run to go ahead 55-54 with 8:24 to go and then 57-54 on a layup by Patrick Cartier. San Jose answered with an 10-0 run of its own to go ahead 64-57 with 3:33 remaining.
CSU cut the San Jose State lead to four at 66-62 after a 3-pointer by Stevens with 2:31 remaining, but the Rams would get no closer. The Spartans closed the game with a 12-8 scoring edge.
“I think it is just our consistency,” Stevens said of the Rams’ recent woes. “We’ve shown it in spurts and flashes, but we all know that these games are played for 40 minutes. We just have to be more consistent for longer stretches or else the results aren’t going to change. We’ve just got to buy in for longer periods of time.”
Stevens led the Rams with 24 points. Cartier added 12 and John Tonje and Isaiah Rivera each had 10. CSU shot only 40% from the field and made only 7 of 23 3-pointers.
One thing the Rams did well was take care of the ball, committing only two turnovers the entire game after turning it over 14 times at New Mexico.
But once the Spartans started hitting shots at a high percentage, the turnover margin didn’t matter much. San Jose State shot 50% from the field in the second half and made five more 3-pointers.
“We knew today was going to be a really tough game,” Medved said. “But I don’t think, emotionally, we handled it very well. Tonight, I thought early on, we came out really well. We were kind of lazy, I thought, towards the end of the first half and maybe took the easy way out. Next thing you know, we’ve got a problem on our hands.”
CSU looked to be in control early. The Rams scored the first seven points and never trailed in the first half, leading by as many as 14 at one point.
The Rams were on-point with their shooting as well early in the game but cooled off as the first period wore on. Shooting nearly 60% at one point, that percentage dwindled to 37.9% by halftime.
Meanwhile, San Jose State, which only made three of its first 11 shots, began to heat up, especially from behind the 3-point line. The Spartans finished the first half with eight makes from long range.
San Jose State cut the CSU lead to two points with 43 seconds remaining in the first half and a free throw by Isaiah Stevens gave CSU a 36-33 lead at halftime.
Stevens had 15 points in the first half. Tonje had eight.
The Rams will return to action Wednesday on the road at Nevada. They will be back at Moby on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. tip against Fresno State.