Freshman D.J. Balentine scored a career-high 26 points, but it wasn’t enough Saturday as the Aces were out-rebounded 41-22 by Colorado State in a 79-72 loss to the Rams in Fort Collins, Colo.
Coach Marty Simmons knew coming in that Colorado would rebound well. “All we talked about for three days is rebounding, and we get beat 42-21 on the glass,” he said. “You’ve got to make a commitment to being physical. I just thought (Colorado State) was a lot tougher – a lot stronger…That’s their identity. We knew that, we prepared, we talked, we showed film on it, and it’s just our inability to go out there and be physical and not allow them to beat us.”
Simmons added: “I’m not taking anything away from them. They play extremely hard, extremely physical and they’re very tough. But I certainly believe in my team. We can block out, and we can rebound the basketball. But until we make that commitment, not just on game night – every day in practice – because that’s a huge part of what we need to be successful, we’re not going to change that. We can’t talk about it – can’t show it. You’ve got to execute it. One through 16 have to believe it. It’s an effort thing. It’s not about talent. Get your body on somebody and block out, be physical and pursue the basketball. They (Colorado State) have certainly made a better commitment to that than us.”
Senior Colt Ryan returned to the starting lineup following his hip pointer injury, but it was Balentine who kept the Aces alive in both halves on 10 of 15 shooting. “I just think my teammates did a really good job of finding me when I was open and giving me a chance to do that,” Balentine said. “Coaches, they obviously know what I do, and they let me go and play my game out there. A lot of credit goes to my teammates and coaches. From an individual standpoint, I’m feeling pretty good. I can always do better out there, but the main thing is to get the win.”
The Aces started slow, allowing Colorado State to a 10-2 advantage out of the gate. UE trailed by as many as 18 points in the second half. Simmons said: “That’s really two times where we played on the road – (the season opener at) Notre Dame and them – when we got kind of smacked in the mouth, and that’s disappointing. We prepared all week, had sharp practices, thought we were ready to go, and the start wasn’t good. I would certainly hope that after two times like this, we’re going to learn from it and make better starts.”
UE cut the deficit to 75-70 and had the ball at 76-70 twice with a chance to make it a one-possession game. “D.J. obviously stepped up and made some big shots for us, but even at the end there, our execution – we’ve got to execute,” Simmons said. “Guys not knowing where they’re at or what play we’re running – you can’t have that. You’ve got to know, you’ve got to execute, and when we did, guys made shots. But you’ve got to execute to get those looks, and too many times down the stretch we didn’t have that execution.”
Balentine on moving forward from the loss, which snapped the Aces’ four-game winning streak: “We need to execute in practice much more. Coach told us what they were going to do, and they did it. Our coaching staff, they scout so well, and they know what they’re going to do. We try to get prepared for it as best we can. I think what we’re going to do in this next practice coming up is just execute on mistakes and get better. Colorado State’s a really, really good team. They should be ranked top 25.”