FORT COLLINS | The rust was almost inevitable. Still, Isaiah Stevens and his Colorado State teammates found a way to grind through it.
That’s the trademark, Stevens maintained, of a tough team.
Stevens scored 15 points as the 20th-ranked Rams remained undefeated by shrugging off some sluggishness following a nearly month-long layoff due to COVID-19 concerns and holding off short-handed Air Force 67-59 on Tuesday night.
“We were sharp enough to win,” Stevens said.
The Rams (11-0, 1-0 Mountain West) have captured 11 in a row to match the 1988-89 NCAA Tournament team for the second-longest winning streak in school history. The top mark was 14 straight by the 2014-15 squad.
David Roddy added 13 points and 12 rebounds for Colorado State, which played for the first time since a 66-63 win over Mississippi State on Dec. 11. The Rams had two games canceled (Tulsa and Alabama) due to virus concerns within the program and another postponed (at New Mexico).
“You can practice all you want. You can to run all the sprints you want. You can get on the bike, the treadmill, whatever, but there’s nothing like playing,” Stevens said. “The energy’s different. The intensity level is different.”
Colorado State was out of rhythm early on and fell behind 7-0 to a young Air Force team missing six players — three starters — because of virus protocols, including the team’s leading scorer, A.J. Walker. The Rams went on a 14-0 run late in the first half to grab the lead.
But the Falcons (8-5, 1-1) kept it close. They were a a 19 1/2-point underdog, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, but they slowed down the Rams by running the shot clock to close to zero with their constant motion, screens and backdoor cuts for layups on the offensive end.
“Man alive. Those backdoor cuts are demoralizing,” Rams guard Chandler Jacobs said.
Air Force tied it at 48 on a 3-pointer by Carter Murphy with 10:48 remaining.
The turning point, though, was a four-point play by John Tonje, which gave the Rams a late cushion. Roddy sealed it on an emphatic dunk with 53.1 seconds remaining.
“That’s what tough teams do and we want to be a tough team,” Jacobs said. “We’re a good team so we’ve got to keep going.”
The Falcons used just seven players, with Jake Heidbreder — the reigning Mountain West freshman of the week — Camden Vander Zwaag and Ethan Taylor playing all 40 minutes.
Taylor led the Falcons with 19 points, with Murphy adding 13 while Heidbreder and Vander Zwaag contributed 12 each.
“I can watch that all day long,” Air Force coach Joe Scott said of his team’s effort under difficult circumstances. “That’s that’s what we’re looking for. We’re trying to build a program like that.”
Air Force: The Falcons fell to 4-87 against ranked opponents. Their last win over a ranked squad was on March 9, 2013 over No. 12 New Mexico.
Colorado State: This win should help keep the streak going — the Rams have been ranked for four straight weeks in the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history.
AROUND THE RIM
Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun sat a few rows behind the Falcons’ bench. … Colorado State coach Niko Medved improved to 7-0 against Air Force.
The Falcons turned the ball over 14 times while the Rams had just six.
“Too many turnovers,” Scott said. “These experiences against these good teams are going to make us grow.”
Stevens became the 32nd member of Colorado State’s 1,000-point club.
“I wasn’t paying attention to it but I definitely knew. I can’t sit up here and lie about it,” Stevens cracked. “People were in my ear, ‘All you need is three layups. Is that too hard?’ Stuff like that. So I definitely knew about it.”
Air Force: Hosts UNLV on Saturday.
Colorado State: Is scheduled to play at Boise State on Friday. Boise State had its game Tuesday at Utah State postponed due to COVID-19 concerns within the Broncos’ program.