Ugly, disjointed and lacking rhythm.
There’s no easy and clean way to come off a nearly monthlong shutdown during which a team is unable to practice for most of that time.
It’s always going to take time to get the basketball legs back.
The Colorado State men’s basketball team had to work for every minute of Tuesday’s return to action against a stubborn Air Force team, but the Rams found a way.
The No. 19/20-ranked CSU team beat Air Force 67-59 in Moby Arena to reach 11-0.
It was the first game for the Rams in 24 days after a long COVID-19 shutdown.
Here are some takeaways from the win.
The win was what mattered
Sure, some of the computer metrics won’t love a close win over an Air Force (8-5, 1-1 Mountain West) team that ranks near the bottom of the league in most advanced numbers.
That doesn’t really matter right here.
CSU (11-0, 1-0 MW) just had to find a way to win and avoid the fate of Utah State, which lost to Air Force to start conference play.
A hard-fought win after a long shutdown won’t hurt CSU’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Worry about style points later. The Rams did what they had to do in this one.
"Just win the game. That was the most important thing," junior guard Isaiah Stevens said. "That's what we kept talking about during timeouts. Find a way to win the game."
CSU is one of three undefeated teams remaining in Division I men's basketball. A quirk of the shutdown is the Rams joined the top-25 rankings Dec. 13 after beating Mississippi State, but Tuesday was the first game they played as a ranked team this season.
This is the COVID impact
Unfortunately, there have been enough teams shut down due to COVID over the last season-plus that trends have emerged, and it’s clear that teams perform below statistical expectation after a pause.
It showed in this one, especially early in each half. At times, CSU was just off on rotations or off kilter on some shots they would typically make as one of the best shooting teams in the nation.
CSU had less than a week of full practice before Tuesday's game.
"There's nothing like playing. You can practice all you want, you can run all the sprints you want. You can get on the bike, the treadmill, whatever. There's nothing like playing," Stevens said.
Add in Air Force’s frustratingly plodding offensive pace and tricky style of matchup zone defense and it was a recipe for a sloppy slugfest.
The main takeaway from games immediately after a shutdown is to not make big pronunciations or knee-jerk takeaways. CSU looked terrible in a loss at Saint Mary’s last season shortly after a COVID shutdown. It ended up not being anything close to a reflection of the true CSU team.
Air Force was plenty limited in its own way, missing three starters due to COVID issues. It's a sign of the times.
Stevens led CSU with 15 points. David Roddy added another double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Chandler Jacobs scored only six points, but he had two steals and his defensive effort helped turned the game after CSU's slow start.
"I thought he was really, really good (defensively) and had some key energy plays and moments for us on both ends of the floor," CSU coach Niko Medved said. "I thought his athleticism really sparked us and I don't know that we win this game without him."
CSU started slow and struggled early, but a 17-3 run late in the first half put CSU in the lead. Air Force had it tied at 48 in the second half, but the Rams produced another quick 6-0 run to take control and hold on the rest of the way.
What's next for CSU?
The short answer is we don't really know.
The Rams are scheduled to play at Boise State on Friday (8:30 p.m.), but the status of that one is uncertain.
Boise State (10-4, 1-0 MW) has won seven games in a row but is currently shut down due to COVID issues of its own. The Broncos' games at Wyoming (Saturday) and at Utah State (Tuesday) were postponed. No official word on Friday's game has been announced.
The game could be played as scheduled, moved back a day or two, or postponed. If it is postponed, the Rams will likely try and line up a nonconference game over the weekend.
Medved said he doesn't expect to play Boise State on Friday, but nothing is certain yet.
"I think Medved says it best: We have to control the controllables," Jacobs said. "Essentially right now we don't know who we're going to play next, we don't know where we're going to play. We don't know much, but we can control what we can, do what we can, continue to get better."
Follow Kevin Lytle at twitter.com/Kevin_Lytle and at facebook.com/KevinSLytle. Coloradoan sports can also be followed on Twitter. Support his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: No. 19 CSU basketball team pushes past Air Force after long COVID layoff