Colorado State hammers Virginia Tech in Vegas final

LAS VEGAS -- Move over San Diego State, UNLV and New Mexico. There might be more competition for the Mountain West Conference basketball championship this year.

Colorado State showed its class Sunday night by dismantling Virginia Tech 88-52 in the championship game of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. The Rams (10-2) are off to their best start since 1997-98, when they began 11-1.

Tournament MVP Pierce Hornung scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Rams, who led by as many as 38 points. Colorado State senior guard Dorian Green added 18 points and six assists. He shot 5-for-6 on 3-point attempts.

Forward Greg Smith added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Rams, and center Colton Iverson, a 6-foot-10, 261-pound transfer from Minnesota, finished with 15 points and seven rebounds.

"Our conference is exceptional," first-year Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "There's five, six legitimate (NCAA) Tournament-type teams."

As for where the Rams fit in, Eustachy said: "I think expectations are high for us, the highest they've been in a long time."

Hornung, a 6-foot-5, 210-pounder, had his second straight double-double.

"We need to play like we know how to play, play the right way, and good things will happen," he said. "It doesn't matter what type of message (winning the tournament) sends. It's all about what we do. If we play our game on the floor, we're going to be successful."

The Rams seemingly have made a smooth transition to Eustachy, who replaced fan favorite Tim Miles. Miles left for Nebraska after leading Colorado State to the NCAA Tournament last March, where the Rams lost in the first round to Murray State.

"Eustachy came in and we bought into everything he's been telling us," Hornung said. "We knew the success he's had at every program he's coached at. ... It wasn't a tough process for our team. We have a bunch of mature guys that have bought in."

Hornung was asked if the Rams thought they could challenge for the Mountain West title.

"That's the goal," he said. "You know, we're not playing for second place or anything. We have high goals, but it's a process. You have to take them one game at a time and just focus on that one game. We've got another game in a couple days, and that's where our mind is at. That's what mature teams do."

Senior guard Erick Green had 26 points and five rebounds for Virginia Tech, which trailed just 37-29 early in the second half before Colorado State blew the game open with a 22-5 run.

The Rams then squelched any shot of a comeback by the Hokies (9-3) with another 17-1 run, holding Tech without a field goal for more than 5 1/2 minutes while extending their lead to 77-40.

Colorado State finished with a 45-32 edge in rebounds. The Rams had 22 assists to just four for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech, which rallied from a five-point deficit in the final minute of overtime to defeat Bradley 66-65 in Saturday night's semifinals, started well and built a 10-6 lead in the first six minutes.

Colorado State then went on 11-0 run that was bookended by 3-pointers by guards Daniel Bejarano and Wes Eikmeier to go ahead 17-10.

The Rams, who dominated the middle with 12 first-half offensive rebounds, gradually built their lead to 10 points on two occasions before the break, including 32-22 on a short Smith jumper with a minute left in the half.

Virginia Tech cut the lead to 33-27 as Erick Green, who had 14 points in the half, nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with one second remaining.

NOTES: Virginia Tech is scheduled to fly home to Blacksburg on Monday morning, then turn around and fly back to Utah on Thursday for a game against BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday afternoon. ... Erick Green entered the game averaging 25.4 points, tops in the nation. ... Colorado State has not been outrebounded in a game this season. The Rams entered Sunday night's game with a plus-14.7 rebounding margin. ... Virginia Tech played the game with only seven healthy scholarship players on the roster.