Colorado State senior Dorian Green played the role of coach’s favorite son to near perfection Thursday night.
But minutes after the game of his life in the Rams’ 84-72 NCAA Tournament win over Missouri — Colorado State’s biggest postseason victory in a quarter-century — he was in a back room at Rupp Arena downplaying all of that.
A Lawrence High graduate, Green insisted the opponent — a team he grew up basically hating — meant nothing. He used words like “us” and “we” while talking about the program and sidestepping a question about himself.
His coach, Larry Eustachy, sat next to him, nodding his head along with an approving grin.
Then Green finally cracked. He broke character.
“It feels good to be from Kansas and beat Missouri,” he said with a smile.
How could it not? Green grew up in the heart of Jayhawk country, a short stroll away from Allen Fieldhouse. And he played such a key role, scoring a career-best 26 points and leading the Rams into a matchup against top-seeded Louisville on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
In many ways, though, his insistence that this win was monumental regardless of the opponent rang true, too. It was especially satisfying given the history of the Colorado State program — which hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1989. And it was a benchmark in the journey of his own basketball career.
When it came to high-profile high school recruits, Green was largely overlooked. Even after he led Lawrence on an unlikely postseason run and an appearance in the Kansas 6A championship game his junior season, Green had only a handful of college offers. Kansas offered him a chance to stay in his backyard, but only if he would walk on.
He opted instead for a scholarship at Colorado State. He played in 127 consecutive games there — more than any player before him — before skipping a game in the Mountain West tournament because of a sprained ankle.
So, yes, winning in the NCAA Tournament Thursday was satisfying no matter who the Rams beat.
“This is why we came here — to put this program on the map and make this an expected thing each year,” Green said. “This is what we set to do when we first got here on campus, and it’s great to see the hard work pay off.”
And to think Thursday’s performance came on bum ankle.
Green twisted his ankle in the Rams’ regular-season finale and missed the team’s opening game of the Mountain West tournament. He even sat out practices earlier this week in preparation for Missouri.
He is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game and boasts a team-best 3.9 assists per game.
He was back to his old self Thursday, burying three three-pointers in the first half alone before finishing with 26 points — 17 before halftime.
“When you make shots, it feels a lot better,” Green said of his ankle.
It wasn’t the made shots that stood out to his coach.
“More impressive than the 26 points was the way he played on that ankle (and) with the pain defensively,” Eustachy said. “I told him, you’re not 100 percent but you’re going to have to play 120 percent for us to win this game.”