By Will Connolly
Coming into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, the Colorado State University – Pueblo Thunderwolves were ranked eighth in the South Central Region behind Division II Colorado powerhouses University of Colorado – Colorado Springs (No. 7), Colorado School of Mines (No. 3) and Metro State (No. 2). But after having knocked off the No. 9 team in the region (Fort Lewis), the Thunderwolves will face probably their toughest test of the season in a match-up with MSU. Already having fallen to the Roadrunners twice this season, CSU Pueblo is surely out for some revenge.
With wins over the No. 2 (Colorado Mines) and No. 3 (UCCS) seeds in the tournament, the Thunderwolves must feel that they can win it all if they can get past the mighty Roadrunners. In their first meeting of the season, CSU Pueblo put up a strong fight, only falling to State by one single point (75-74). Their second meeting was a bit more lopsided, with the Roadrunners running away with a 23-point victory (83-60). But if there’s ever been a better time to show the doubters that CSU-Pueblo is a real contender, now is the time. Boasting their best record (21-8) in almost 20 years, this team is arguably the best the university has ever seen. And with only one RMAC Tournament championship under their belt in a 52-year history, the Thunderwolves are surely looking to garner their second.
The big men of CSU Pueblo have stood out the most this season. Senior center Tyrone Marshall and junior forward Bronson Moton have been the leading force behind the Thunderwolves’ success this season. Moton has been an unstoppable force this season, averaging 12.1 points to accompany 7.3 rebounds per game. He also boasts four double-doubles to go along with scoring in double figures in 20 games; including two 20-plus point games. Marshall leads the team in scoring at 12.6 points per game to accompany 4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He’s scored in double-digits in 19 games this season, including one double-double coming in a victory over Eastern New Mexico.
In the first meeting between CSU Pueblo and MSU at Massari Arena in Pueblo, CO, the Thunderwolves let junior transfer guard Dalante Dunklin go for a game-high 24 points, six assists and three rebounds. While the Roadrunners’ leading scorers, Mitch McCarron and Nicholas Kay, also contributed 17 points and 13 points, respectively. CSU Pueblo did have four different players break in to double-digits, but they were out-rebounded (28-19), out-assisted (17-14), and gave up 14 more points in the paint (32-18). However, they did shoot a better field goal percentage, three-point percentage and free throw percentage than their visitors. Their second meeting wasn’t nearly as close, as the Thunderwolves went up 5-0 and then just lost all control, as they never regained their early lead. Metro literally led in every category except for turnovers, which didn’t really play a factor because State still converted their turnovers into more points.
The question is, which team will we see in tomorrow night’s semifinal match-up between the two RMAC rivals?