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Colorado State's season ends with heartbreaking first round NIT loss to South Dakota State

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March 19, 2015

“It took a lot out of us, Sunday,” Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy said of the NCAA Tournament snub. It could clearly be seen in the Rams team that showed up Wednesday night.

CSU came out flat in their National Invitation Tournament opener against South Dakota State. SDSU, on the other hand, started the game with all the energy, all the fight. They battled inside for rebounds, drove the rack with reckless abandon and knocked down threes with precision. They were the more physical team in a game full of tough fouls, bullying the Rams.

The Jackrabbits were determined to win and to move on to the second round; they did just that with an 86-76 victory over CSU, Wednesday night.

The Jackrabbits ran – both on the floor and in the points column – relentlessly. Their 9-0 run early gave South Dakota State a 12-5 lead they’d carry all the way into halftime. Junior guard Deondre Parks nailed outside jumpers while Reed Tellinghuisen drove the rim with success.

Colorado State’s frustration started showing late in the first half. When a free throw was made, J.J. Avila went after the board and his injured ankle was run into by Cody Larson. Avila wasn’t happy, down 12 at the time, and threw Larson to the ground on the next free throw attempt with an elbow. It was completely uncharacteristic and a silly foul by the senior leader.

The exchange between Avila and Larson invigorated the Rams, but even with Gian Clavell’s buzzer-beater three, CSU still trailed 38-47 at halftime to South Dakota State. Regrouping was certainly needed for the Rams.

The second half was something completely different. Colorado State came out with a fire lit underneath them, blocking shots and scoring inside to pull within three quickly. SDSU wouldn’t just roll over, though, they battled back with a 9-0 run to widen the gap back to 13 points. George Marshall was on fire, going 6-11 from the floor and 3-5 from downtown in the second half alone.

It seemed, finally, enough was enough for CSU. Avila started taking the game over, with back-to-back drives and buckets, including a physical and-one that sent Moby into a madness. They rallied and came to within five points before the Jackrabbits went wild again, ballooning the lead to 17 with under five minutes to go. South Dakota State, with the help of Marshall’s magnificent shooting, held on to defeat CSU and move on to the NIT’s second round.

“It was a hell of a year, sucks. Things just didn’t go our way. We tried to come out with a spark in the second half and at the end of the day, we lost,” senior guard Daniel Bejarano said following his final game as a Ram.

“The tougher team won,” fellow senior Stanton Kidd said.

“This is what’s so misleading is, ‘Well, now we told you so. They shouldn’t have been in the tournament.’ It’s like racing a tired horse. It’s like California Chrome was mentally beat to win the Triple Crown,” Eustachy said of his mentally worn down Rams team. The year itself was enough to tire anyone, even college kids, with multiple must-win games to end the regular season. But to be left out of the NCAA Tournament was the final death-blow to CSU’s confidence.

It marks the end of the best year wins-wise in Colorado State basketball history. At 27-7, the Rams won more games than in any previous season and with Eustachy as head coach, there’s no telling how far they will go.

For now, CSU’s season is over. So are the careers of Bejarano, Kidd and Avila in green and gold jerseys.

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