FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) The recipient of the game ball was an easy choice: Colorado State junior Emmanuel Omogbo after scoring one point in 10 heavy-hearted minutes.
Omogbo gave the Rams an emotional lift in an 83-79 win over Air Force on Wednesday night, a day after losing his parents and two young relatives in a house fire.
After the game, the team huddled together in the locker room and broke down.
“Most gallant effort I ever saw,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said, wiping away tears. “We really wanted to win that game so we could give him a winning ball.”
Fire officials in Maryland said Caroline and Samson Omogbo died at the scene in a blaze early Tuesday in Chillum. His sister’s 2-year-old twins were taken to a hospital, where they died.
Omogbo was on the court at Clune Arena about an hour before the game to shoot a few warmup jumpers and dribble back and forth along the halfcourt line. At the request of Omogbo, there was no moment of silence.
The 20-year-old wasn’t in the starting lineup for the first time this season. He was put in with 15:10 remaining in the first half.
He spent most of the second half sitting at the end of the bench, his hands on his chin. The moment finally caught up to him, his teammates said.
“He was never right in the ballgame, he just wasn’t right,” Eustachy said. “He was holding everything in.”
His teammates could sense it, too.
“He’s going through a lot,” forward Tiel Daniels said. “He’s so strong. We’re trying to give him all the support we can.
“We gave him the game ball and he broke down. Everybody broke down. That was one of those moments you can’t hold back.”
Eustachy said he and an assistant coach will fly back to Maryland with Omogbo for the funeral.
“This is absolutely heartbreaking for Emmanuel, his family and for all of us that know him. There are no words to describe how it felt to hear this terrible news,” Eustachy said earlier in a statement. “They were a beautiful family that I enjoyed getting to know. The entire Colorado State men’s basketball team, athletic program and university will be there to support and help Emmanuel in any way we can through this incredibly tough time in his life.”
Colorado State athletic director Joe Parker said in a statement there has been “overwhelming concern and offers of support” for Omogbo and his family. The school set up a GoFundMe account on Wednesday to assist Omogbo with expenses. In nine hours, the account already had 813 people raise $37, 875.
“Our focus remains on providing the right support around Emmanuel and helping him make decisions that are best for him and his family,” Parker said.
Born in Nigeria, Omogbo grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland. He attended South Plains College in Texas the last two seasons before joining the Rams. He was averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds for Colorado State.
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with him and his family,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “For that young man to do what he did today, I can’t even imagine what he’s going through. That just shows what little this means and what the bigger picture is. I can’t imagine what he suffered, and our thoughts and prayers go with him.”