In its opening game of the season, the Colorado State University-Pueblo men’s basketball team found itself in an early hole and incapable of finding a path out.
Unable to battle back, CSU-Pueblo dropped the game to the Division III Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes, 86-76, in front of a half-packed Massari Arena in the first game of the Al Kaly Classic.
After a quick glance at the halftime stats, it was a wonder the Pack wasn’t getting blown out. The team made only six of its 31 first half shots hitting a putrid 19.4 percent, yet somehow found itself down by only five at the break.
Along with going 10-11 from the charity stripe, the only reason the ThunderWolves were within earshot of WVU was because of a stellar first half performance from senior, Rome Smith. The 6-foot-3-inch guard scored 14 points in the opening half including a 3-point shot on the team’s opening possession.
The Coyotes shot the lights out in the second half going 18-24 from the field and hit 57.4 percent of their shots in the game.
“Some of it was due to our lack of defense, some of it was due to their good offense,” head coach Pat Eberhart said of the opponent’s shooting performance.
Smith said it had more to do with the CSU-Pueblo defense.
“I’ll take the blame for the defense,” Smith said. “We talk about active hands on defense, and I got dinged a few times with a few threes in my face and my hands down. As a senior guard, I’ll take the blame for it.”
Smith and Imari Thomas carried the team throughout the game. Each finished with double-doubles. Smith scored 14 of his 24 points in the first half and brought down 10 rebounds in the game.
Thomas, a junior transfer from Los Angeles Trade Tech, hit his stride in the second half scoring 18 of his 24 points. He grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds in the game.
The Pack was without senior, big-man Jake Trahern and junior college transfer from Los Angeles Southwest College DJ Turner, who is expected to make an impact.
Eberhart said missing players did have an affect on the team’s performance, but refused to use it as an excuse.
CSU-Pueblo will return to action Saturday at 7 p.m. in Massari Arena in the second and final game of the Al Kaly Classic. Things won’t get any easier for the ThunderWolves who will take on the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks who finished 25-7 last year.