A somber mood was set over the Colorado State Fair Events Center Friday as the Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves were defeated 70-61 by Metro State in the semifinals of the RMAC Shootout.
A team that shocked the conference three days earlier by defeating number one seeded Mesa State for the second season in a row saw its own season cut short by Metro State behind a 19-point performance by junior guard Donte Nicholas.
After sharing baskets to open the game, the RoadRunners turned up the defensive pressure, which helped cause 11 first-half turnovers for the ThunderWolves.
Metro State was helped on the interior by 6-foot-7 center Jonathan Morse and 6-foot-9 reserve center Shakir Johnson, who both made it tough to find easy looks in the paint.
The tall presence in the paint forced CSU-Pueblo to continually shoot from the perimeter where they struggled to find its range. As a team the ThunderWolves shot 16 percent (4-25) from beyond the arc.
CSU-Pueblo kept it close despite the poor shooting, trailing 36-28 at halftime.
Metro State would extend that lead to start the second half, going up 16 with an assist from Nicholas to Johnson who put the ball away with a dunk.
Although down by double-digits CSU-Pueblo continued to battle, cutting the lead to nine points with a layup from senior forward Chris Busch with 7:04 remaining in the game.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Nicholas said. “We just knew that if we weathered the storm we would be okay.”
That was as close as the ThunderWolves would get for the remainder of the game. The tandem of Nicholas and sophomore guard Reggie Evans helped Metro State push the lead back to 14 points with 2:10 remaining in the game.
Evans broke free for a breakaway dunk that all but slammed the hopes of the ThunderWolves away.
“I think our guys did a really nice job of coming out and setting the tone on defense,” said Metro State coach Brannon Hayes.
The ThunderWolves suffered in the game from 19 turnovers compared to Metro State who committed only 14 turnovers on the day.