Colorado State guard Prentice Nixon shoots a jumper against the Colorado Buffaloes on Dec. 2, 2017 at Moby Arena in Fort Collins.
Javon Harris, For the Loveland Reporter-Herald
Colorado State guard Prentice Nixon shoots a jumper against the Colorado Buffaloes on Dec. 2, 2017 at Moby Arena in Fort Collins.

FORT COLLINS — Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy left the court at Moby Arena Saturday afternoon as the victor in the annual battle between the Rams and Buffaloes. His Rams wrapped their arms around the sixth-year head coach with cause for celebration. CSU defeated CU, 72-63, and for the first time in more than a decade, the Rams won back-to-back games against their bitter rivals.

Just don’t plan the parade quite yet.

Ask Eustachy and these Rams (4-4) are headed toward a challenge of historical proportions.

“I feel like (General) Custer going into the last stand next week,” Eustachy said. “‘ Let’s go guys.’ And then we jump off the cliff.”

First up, a Tuesday tipoff at Arkansas, and three days later, a road test at Oregon. That makes three consecutive Power 5 opponents for a young team still searching for its identity.

On Saturday, the Rams gave reason for their fans to both believe, and fear, what lies ahead.

“We (won) a very important game,” Eustachy said, “but we still have our issues.”

CSU led by as many as 17 points in the second half with its most well-rounded performance of the young season, led by its backcourt. Guards J.D. Paige and Prentiss Nixon paced the Rams with 16 points each. CSU out-rebounded (46-32) and out-blocked (9-2) the Buffaloes, in addition to attempting more than twice as many free throws (29-13).

“I think it does a lot for our confidence,” Nixon said. “(CU) was undefeated coming into this game. For us to be up 17 at one point when we’ve struggled on the offensive end, it means a lot.”

But the victory didn’t come easy.

CU (6-1) trailed 63-46 before storming back. Freshman point guard McKinley Wright, who led all players with 19 points, scored on three consecutive possessions — two 3-pointers, a lay-in, plus another with an “and-one” finish — to get the Buffaloes within single digits. When senior CU guard Dominique Collier converted a three-point play with under a minute left, the lead was down to 4 points.

Meanwhile, CSU went without field goal over the game’s final 7 minutes, 40 seconds, relying on nine made free throws to hang on as CU failed to convert its final five shot attempts from the field.

“CSU beat us at our own game,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “We want to hold our opponents to less than 40 percent, they did that to us. We want to be plus eight on the boards, they did that to us. We want to make more free throws than our opponent shoots — they did that to us. They beat us at our own game. That’s disheartening and hopefully it’s a learning experience for our young guys.”

Game film will provide plenty of lessons for how the Rams can avoid another late-game scoring slump. After taking another sip of Diet Coke from the postgame interview table on Saturday, Eustachy took a moment to relax.

Custer’s Last Stand can wait — at least for now.

“Let’s just enjoy this one,” Eustachy said.

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