Larry Eustachy took one last drink from his Diet Coke, wiped his mouth with a towel and resumed his defensive stance in front of the Colorado State bench in the final minute Wednesday night. By then, it was too late to change the outcome of his homecoming game.
Utah State’s 57-50 victory was standard stuff for an Aggie team that’s fighting its way through this first season of Mountain West basketball. USU coach Stew Morrill’s favorable description of a “good, old-fashioned slugfest” will have to do.
Well, that’s glossing over the oddities of how USU made only eight 2-point baskets, how only four CSU players scored points and how the visiting coach acknowledged the Spectrum atmosphere he helped create.
“Except I’m used to fans encouraging me, not yelling at me,” Eustachy said. “So that was different, but it was good.”
Eustachy revived the program in the 1990s, delivering USU’s first NCAA bid in 10 years before leaving for Iowa State and creating the vacancy that Morrill filled.
Forty minutes before tipoff, Eustachy paced the hallway outside the visiting locker room. The game itself obviously worried him much more than how he would be received, walking onto the court for his first game in nearly 16 years.
Ordinarily, incidents in an opposing coach’s past would be prime material for USU’s notorious student section. But considering the reinstatement of Aggie center Jarred Shaw amid his legal issues, any harsh treatment of Eustachy would have represented a double standard. As it happened, Shaw led USU with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Shaw’s rebound of his own free-throw miss led to Spencer Butterfield’s clinching four-point play.
Label that the ultimate second-chance sequence, a subject Eustachy understands. He’s 58, so his revived career logically will end at CSU, with regular visits to the campus in Logan where he once thrived.
Not that he was swept up in the moment Wednesday. “I’ve got too much water under the bridge since I was here,” he said, chuckling. “Not all good, not all bad. But I love the people here. They were great to me.”
That remained mostly true. Thankfully, the nightly publication that outlines heckling subjects for the students was conciliatory toward Eustachy: “This guy actually did quite a bit for Aggie basketball. Give him some love.”
So the fans who turned their backs during the visiting team’s introductions cheered the announcement of Eustachy’s name.
He anticipated a respectable welcome, having told The Coloradoan that Utahns are “not your Philadelphia fans.”
Or Wyoming’s, who last season taunted Eustachy about his struggles with alcoholism, which basically cost him his job at Iowa State before he succeeded at Southern Mississippi.
USU’s students apparently were more tasteful, but some booed Eustachy as he protested a charging call. During another argument, they chanted, “Coach is angry.”
Afterward, Eustachy chafed about how two players had to produce 41 of the Rams’ 50 points. But he liked CSU’s effort in a rebuilding year, after winning an NCAA Tournament game last year with the veteran team he inherited.
“Good game,” he concluded. “I thought it was a good game, didn’t you?”