Home loss to CSU Rams still stings CU men’s basketball two years later

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Xavier Johnson missed last year’s showdown with the Rams in Fort Collins due to an injury.

CU men’s basketball preview: Colorado State

MATCHUP: Colorado State Rams (5-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (5-1).

GAME TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; Also 102.9 FM in Fort Collins and 104.7 FM in Denver. TV — Pac-12 Mountain.

Colorado State — Larry Eustachy, 5th season (92-49, 494-307 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (135-81, 191-147 overall).

LEADERS: Colorado State — Scoring: F Emmanuel Omogbo, Sr., 13.5 ppg; Rebounding: Omogbo, 12.3 rpg; Assists: G JD Page, So., 4.2 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G/F Xavier Johnson, Sr., 15.0 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 9.5 rpg; Assists — G Derrick White, Sr., 3.8 apg.

NOTABLE: CU leads the all-time series between the rivals 89-37, with a 52-9 advantage in Boulder…White needs six points to reach 2,000 in his collegiate career. He scored 1,912 in three seasons during a Division II All-American career at UCCS before transferring to CU…Though he is averaging just 11.2 minutes per game freshman guard Deleon Brown is giving CU efficient production with a 9-for-14 mark from the floor that includes a 5-for-8 showing on 3-pointers…CSU suffered its lone loss against a Stanford team that was picked 10th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, though the 6-1 Cardinal has been one of the league’s early surprises…The Buffs play their first true road game Saturday night at the University of Portland.

Xavier Johnson has tried his best to forget the specifics of Colorado State’s last visit to the Coors Events Center.

Johnson just remembers it was a hotly contested battle, as it typically is when the Rams and Colorado Buffaloes hook up for their annual state showdown.

And, of course, Johnson remembers the disappointment of a two-point loss — a verdict that counted as just the second CSU win in Boulder since 1957 and set the stage for what would become a frustrating 2014-15 campaign for the Buffs.

After exacting a little revenge last year in Fort Collins, the Buffs finally get another chance at their in-state rival at home, as CU and CSU squares off for the 127th time Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center.

Entering the game the Buffs have won 36 of their past 37 nonconference games at home. The Rams’ victory two years ago stands as the lone blemish during that run.

“Terrible,” Johnson said of the 2014 heartbreak against the Rams. “It was a hard-fought game. It came down to the wire but they came up with the victory. Which was unfortunate. But this year I hope it’s the other way around.”

Johnson was one of the bright spots in that game two years ago, hitting 7 of 10 shots from the floor and finishing with a team-best 20 points to go with five rebounds. After missing last year’s rivalry showdown — a solid 88-77 win for the Buffs at Moby Arena — while recovering from a torn Achilles, Johnson is eager to continue his recent hot streak against the visiting Rams.

Johnson has climbed into the team scoring lead at 15 points per game after an impressive three-game surge. The fifth-year senior sparked a second-half rally in a failed comeback bid last week against Notre Dame, finishing with 23 points, and though he played fewer first-half minutes in the following day’s win over then-No. 22 Texas due to early foul trouble, Johnson bounced back to match a career-high with 27 points in Sunday’s win against Wofford. Johnson added 12 rebounds to post the seventh double-double of his career.

During that three-game span, Johnson has shot 20-for-37 from the floor (.541) while going 5-for-9 from 3-point range. Johnson has averaged 7.3 rebounds during the past three games, raising his season average to 6.3. Johnson entered the season with a career rebounding average of 5.5.

Head coach Tad Boyle challenged his group this week to pick up its intensity after a lackluster first half against Wofford Sunday, and Johnson believes the message has been received.

“Our (starting) team has been really strong lately. But it takes more than that to win a game,” Johnson said. “We need everybody to be 100 percent this game, to be able to work and go our hardest.”

Boyle has stated repeatedly this week that rebounding will be the key against a CSU team that consistently has shown a knack for getting to the glass under coach Larry Eustachy. The Rams are outrebounding their opponents by almost 11 boards per game, with leading rebounder and reigning Mountain West Conference player of the week Emmanuel Omogbo bringing a streak of three consecutive double-doubles to Boulder.

“I hope I don’t have to worry about our energy and effort on Wednesday night,” Boyle said. “The difference between good teams and average teams is good teams do it consistently. They do it on the road, they do it at home. They do it if the game is tipped off at noon, they do it if the game is tipped off at nine o’clock at night. It doesn’t matter where, when, or who they play. They play the way they’re supposed to play. This group doesn’t.

“Other than a half against Notre Dame and a half against Wofford, we’ve been pretty good. But a half isn’t going to be good enough to win.”

Pat Rooney: or