I do this blog for fun. I do it because I like to share my perspective of watching a game as a fan from the 7th row and as a fan who has loved this game for over 50 years.
Let me just this out of the way up front.
There is no way I can do justice to what happened on the Moby floor on this glorious Saturday night. The Colorado State Rams, clad in the orange of their past, kept their future conference title hopes alive with one of the most soulful and deep-hearted efforts seen in Fort Collins in years. And maybe never.
There have been plenty of memorable games in recent years. 2011 against CU when Dorian Green made a late runner. 2012 when an undermanned squad beat UNM, led by Pierce Hornung. A crazy comeback vs UNLV in 2012. A great Orange Out win over San Diego State in 2013.
And there they were in the crowd, the great players of the past. Green, Greg Smith, Jesse Carr sitting together. Hornung on the bench in his capacity of Director of Player Development. Greats of the past like Rich Strong, Barry Young, David urcotte, Aki Palmer, Ryan Yoder. Along with nearly 8000 other fans they were witness to a team of seven magnificent players who never stopped saying yes when it would have been easy to say no.
San Diego State got out of the gate the quickest as first Jeremy Hemsley and then Trey Kell nailed a pair of three-balls. The Rams were having trouble getting open looks but it wasnt for lack of effort. It was the direct result of an Aztec team that had been embarrassed defensively at home in the team’s previous meeting.
The Rams had defeated the Aztecs earlier in the year when Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo had combined for 61 points. SDSU coach Steve Fisher wasnt going to let that happen this time and designed a defense that would add help every time Clavell or Omogbo touched the ball. Clavell was guarded by the best perimeter defender in the league in Dakarai Allen but Allen had plenty of support behind him. And Omogbo was not going to get any room driving inside the paint.
The Rams also had made a bit of a defensive change from the first game. They were switching screens way more than they have ever done. They struggled a little early with some of the communication but as the game went on they got better and better. But it was of little effect throughout the first half as the Aztecs shot 5-7 from beyond the arc and nearly 50% for the half. Omogbo had been sent to the bench with his 2nd foul at the 9 minute mark and Clavell was forcing shots from all over the floor. When the Aztecs’ Malik Pope drained a late 3, he sent the Rams into the locker room trailing 33-21. It was the Rams biggest halftime deficit of the year and it would have been much worse save the efforts of two Rams – Nico Carvacho and Bradon Koelliker – who had combined for 7 points and 12 rebounds, many of which kept offensive possessions alive.
The second half would be played with hopes of a comeback and it wasnt far-fetched. The Rams had trailed the Aztecs by 10 and fallen behind by 13 in their first meeting in San Diego before mounting an epic comeback. And when the Rams opened the half with a pair of baskets in the first two minutes, cutting the lead to 8, Steve Fisher took a timeout knowing the fragility of his team in these situations.
And then Fisher made his biggest mistake. His star guard Trey Kell picked up his 3rd foul near the 16 minute mark. An assistant informed Fisher but he was slow getting a sub in the game. Within seconds Kell was called for a soft reach-in foul and now he was on the bench with 15+ minutes remaining and the Rams had closed to 4.
San Diego State wasnt going to do down without a fight and when subs D’Erryl Williams and Zylan Cheatham scored at the rim, the Aztecs had pushed their lead back to 9. They held firm and led by 7 at the under 8 minute media timeout.
Clavell was still struggling to find traction from the field but the Rams, led by Carvacho and Omogbo, attacked every miss as if their life depended on it. They were flying at the glass from all angles and even when they didnt corral the ball they were usually getting a hand on it.
Kell returned to the game but within a minute or so, Prentiss Nixon recognized an opportunity to attack him in transition and fouled him out. The Rams continued to attack, getting the deficit to 1, then tying it on a Clavell three inside of 4 minutes.
Back and forth the two teams went at it. First Hemsley scored a runner, then Clavell countered with a jumper and the game was tied at 52. And when Nixon was fouled going to the rim, the Rams had their first chance to take a lead with their best free throw shooter on the line.
Nixon lined up the first. And missed. And then you could visibly see him get pissed off at himself for missing. At that point you knew that just as the rest of the team, he was locked in for the finish. He defiantly made the second and the Rams had their first lead at 53-52.
And then it was time for both teams to defend as if their lives depended on it. First a Clavell steal. Then San Diego State forcing a shot clock violation. Then another Clavell steal. Then a great defensive effort by Allen to force Clavell into a tough baseline jumper.
And then Steve Fisher called a timeout and drew up a play for Dakarai Allen. It would have been a natural time for Kell to be called on but with him on the bench, it was the senior Allens turn to shine. And he did as, after a defensive switch, he took Nixon to the rim and scored a beautiful layup while drawing a foul. When he drained the free throw, the Aztecs had a precious lead at 55-53 with 20 seconds remaining.
Everybody knew it was time for Gian Clavell. Allen knew, Fisher knew, the Aztecs knew. And they were simply not going to let Clavell beat them. Which left Nixon alone cutting to the rim. The Aztecs immediately reacted with three defenders running on him and blocked the ball out of bounds with 9 seconds remaining (Nixon was planted into the ground with way more contact than Allen had received a few seconds earlier but no call).
CSU had 3 timeouts remaining but chose to ignore that and ran an inbounds play. Somehow Carvacho came free right next to the basket and looked to have a dunk for the tie. He turned it down and passed the ball to Omogbo on the left wing.
Emmanuel Omogbo has been the most inspirational player to don a Ram uniform in recent years. A year ago he lost his parents and his young nephew and niece in a horrible fire. He somehow found a way to finish last season,then returned with a promise to deliver a special season for the people of Fort Collins who had been so generous in donating money to help him.
He has been delivering as promised, leading the MWC in rebounding and becoming a double-double machine.
And there he was in the corner with 7 seconds remaining and the Rams trailing by 2. He began with a shot fake. Then a quick look toward Nixon at the top of the key (who was wide open). He held the ball, then rose up to take the big shot.
When youre watching the game from the lower level and youve seen as many shots as Ive seen from down there, you can see when a shot has a chance to go in. This one had the look. But it also takes place in slow motion when youre at the game as you await the result.
And there the ball was in the air for an eternity, then it was rattling the rim, then it was gently falling out of the net.
The Aztecs were out of timeouts and without Kell on the floor, they scrambled to get a shot. The ball came to midcourt for a desperation heave, the buzzer sounded, the ball fell harmlessly and the Rams had scored a pulsating, energetic, and famous victory, keeping their hopes of a conference title alive.
Another passionate and extraordinary effort from our Magnificent Seven. The magical season continues.
And we as fans are blessed.
One final thought…
Before anyone rails about officiating (and there were some marginal calls), Verne Harris and crew did something remarkable tonight. Every friggin college game always seems to have a clock review at the very end to make sure the tenths of seconds are correct. There was something like 4.6 seconds left on the clock when Omogbo’s three-ball fell through the net.
Harris and crew did not stop the game to review the clock. And why was that important you ask? Because San Diego State was out of timeouts. A clock review would have given Steve Fisher a chance to draw up a play to at least create a final look.
That was great officiating.
Thats what I am as a season ticket holder for the CSU Womens Basketball Team.
Its easy to take for granted what these women do every time they take to the floor because they win so much. They have delivered so many powerhouse performances in Moby over the past few years that its hard to accept close games a lot of nights.
And on this night in Moby, facing the second place Lady Lobos with a chance to clinch a fourth consecutive MWC regular season title, I was hoping (and almost expecting) an easy and convincing victory.
And it sure had a bit of that feel to it in the first half as the Rams jumped out to a 27-17 halftime lead, holding the visitors to 21% shooting with their trademark stifling man-to-man defense.
But coaches get paid to coach and players play to win. Opposing players are on scholarship too. And when the Rams came out of halftime a little slow and the Lobos attacked the Rams more aggressively, it was game on. The Rams fought off a flurry to extend their lead back to 9, but when UNM’s Cherise Beynon went the full length of the court to drain a long three-ball in the final 3.5 seconds of the 3rd quarter, the Rams’ lead had been cut to 3 at 41-38.
Back and forth the two teams went at each other. The Rams were hanging on but barely as New Mexico ratcheted up their defense, forcing the Rams into tough shots and shot clock violations. And when the Lobos’ guard Laneah Bryan drained a corner three ball, UNM had their first lead since the 3:00 mark of the first quarter at 52-51.
And thats when the Rams went to work. Seniors Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson along with junior guard Hannah Tvrdy had speared the Rams’ effort all night.
But it was redshirt sophomore (and Fort Collins native) Myann Hamm who delivered one of the great series of plays over the next minute to propel the Rams.
Within seconds of Bryan’s go-ahead three, Hamm countered with a corner three of her own to push the Rams back into the lead. A minute later, as New Mexico’s Van Der Kiel was maneuvering in the post, Hamm swooped in from the wing to steal the ball. Then, after a Nystrom miss, Hamm poke-checked the ball from Beynon at mid-court and scored a breakaway layup to push the Rams lead to 4 at 56-52.
But the Lobos werent going away easily, and when Bryan banked in a three from the top of the circle, the lead was 56-55 with 35 seconds remaining.
And now it was time for Nystrom to do her thing.
The Lobos chose not to foul (they were sitting on only 1 team foul at the time) and the Rams calmly moved the ball around until there were about 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Nystrom caught the ball at the top of the key, the rest of the Rams spread, and it was Iso time for the Swede. A couple of games ago she had shot a pull-up jumper to beat Fresno at the buzzer in a similar situation. Guarded by 6’5″ big Van Der Kiel, it looked like it could be the same. But a head and shoulder fake at the elbow, a couple of dribbles later, Nystrom scored a flying underhand layup as the shot clock expired.
Still 5 seconds remaining and with the Women’s game allowing the ball to be inbounded at midcourt after a timeout, there was plenty of time for the Lobos to send the game into OT.
The Lobos ran a play that got their leading scorer for the game Alex Laperolorie what appeared to be an open look on the far wing. She caught the ball and elevated to shoot. But out of nowhere came Nystrom who flew high and far and rejected the shot out of bounds. Two seconds remained on the clock and the Lobos tried a similar play to the other side. But when Gustavsson jumped out, the ball was fumbled, and the buzzer sounded.
Another close victory where the Rams had out executed their opponents down the stretch. Its become a bit of a trademark of this year’s squad who have a hard time making enough shots to put their opponents away.
Nystrom and Gustavsson were the Dub Dub Girls once again. Nystrom finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 steals; a sublime performance by the reigning and about to be repeat MWC Player of the Year recipient. Gustavsson struggled from the field, finishing with 11 points on 4-15 shooting, but grabbed 11 rebounds and played outstanding post defense. UNM’s Beynon had a double-double, Bryan would finish with 12 on 4-5 shooting from beyond the arc, and Laperolerie had 16.
But no one was bigger than Myann Hamm in that one glorious minute as the Rams clinched their fourth consecutive title.
Like I said, I’m spoiled.
More on the Dub Dub Girls…
Ellen Nystrom is clearly on her way to winning her second consecutive MWC Player of the Year Award. And Elie Gustavsson is on her way to All-MWC honors for the first. Time after being named the Most Outstanding Player in last year’s MWC Tourney. Nystrom has started every game in her CSU career and Gustavsson has started all but 1. They are the first duo to win four consecutive MWC Basketball regular season championships. And with the win over New Mexico, their record in regular season conference games now stands at 61-8.
Nystrom also showed why she should be named Defensive Player of the Year as well. She spent most of this game with the defensive assignment on 6’5″ big Van Der Keijl. SHe held her to 6 points on 2-8 shooting, well below her 14ppg average. And then at the moment of truth she jumped out and recorded her 4th block of the game on Laperoleries jumper. She can guard all 5 positions, she grabs defensive rebounds, she records steals. Voters always favor shot blockers in these awards but there is no doubt who the best defender is.
CSU does a really cool thing by posting Twitter photos on the big video board. My dogs Ogie and Wally made their debut last night sporting their Swedish flag bandanas in honor of the Dub Dub Girls.
I guess I was supposed to be shocked to find out that CSU Head Basketball Coach Larry Eustachy verbally abused his players several years ago and behaved poorly.
Because based on my own experiences I had already decided that the guy is a big time prick.
But thats neither here nor there.
Because all this does is serve as a distraction to the real issue. Which is Larry Eustachy has taken a solid program that he inherited at CSU and turned it into a mediocre one.
He came to CSU after the 2012 season and took over a program that earned an NCAA At-large bid and had achieved an RPI of 29. Everyone returned the following year and the team once again earned an NCAA At-Large bid with an RPI of 20. That season was an interesting one because after 8 games and the team coming off a perplexing loss on the road to a horrible Illinois-Chicago team, they turned to Assistant COach Niko Medved to reinstate an offense that took better advantage of that team’s skill set.
Since that glorious season in 2013, here are CSU’s RPI rankings:
185, 37, 171, 103
A performance as uneven and mediocre as their coach.
It doesn’t have to take five years to build a successful program. Especially one that began with a solid base.
I point to another coach and program as an example.
In 2013, after serving as a successful assistant at several schools, a young coach took over a floundering D-1 program in a smaller one-big type of conference. They were coming off a 5-25 season and a 343 RPI.
Here’s the progress theyve made in terms of RPI:
339, 294, 176, 95
Thats right. A long steady trend into the Top 100 and a first place position in their league after being in the ashes just four years prior. And its been done without the drama of academic suspension, Performance Improvement Plans, etc.We Colorado State fans are all familiar with the coach who has accomplished this.
It happens to be none other than the aforementioned Niko Medved who is doing his good work at Furman.
We can debate about coaching methods, athletics as a front porch etc until we’re blue in the face. And there are legitimate arguments to all sides. But there are objective measures that offer far less in terms of debate and opinion
But as a fan, I try to keep as objective a view as I possibly can. The Colorado State Mens Basketball program under Larry Eustachy is worse off than the one he inherited. He’s had five years and thats plenty of time to build, grow, and sustain. Thats what Niko Medved has done at Furman.
Its time for CSU to cut Sideshow Larry loose.
And if that makes me a fucking cunt, so be it.
When the MWC schedulers drew this one up, they had no idea what the ramifications of a simple Border War clash would be. As 3-time defending regular season MWC Champs, every game is big for the Rams in their quest for four in a row. Wyoming was a pre-season bottom half of conference pick. But Joe Legurski’s Cowgirls decided somewhere along the way to ignore a silly pre-season poll, positioning themselves at the top of the conference standings.
And so this was no simple Border War.
This was the clash between the first place Rams at 11-2 and the second place Cowgirls at 10-3. A win would give the Rams a two-game lead and go a long way toward that 4-peat. A Cowgirl win would create a tie at the top and put them in the drivers seat with another match-up still to come in Laramie.
And both teams delivered high-level performances on both ends of the floor, matching each other basket for basket until the Rams pulled away in the final 6 minutes to score their biggest and best win of the 2016-17 season.
The Cowgirls started fast, making their first 3 field goal attempts and jumped out to a 7-2 lead. The Rams’ Elie Gustavsson heated up and started scoring at will, pushing them into a 17-11 first quarter lead. The Rams pushed the lead all the way to 11 in the second quarter before WYoming began a long comeback to et back into the game, trailing by only 33-29 at the half. Gustavsson and Ellen Nystrom were carrying the Rams. Liv Roberts and Hailey Ligocki were carrying the Cowgirls.
And when Roberts opened the second half with a pair of baskets from the low block to even the game at 33, it was game on. The teams matched basket for basket until Roberts drove hard into the paint to score a difficult runner, pushing Wyoming into a 45-43 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Liv Roberts was willing her Cowgirl squad with her stellar play. 3-4 from the perimeter, pull up jumpers, post moves. You name it she was doing it and an upset was very much in the cards as the 4th quarter began.
Nystrom missed a jumper and the Cowgirls corralled the rebound. A chance to push the lead to 4.
And then it happened.
Roberts ran hard across the lane to establish herself in the low block. As she planted, her knee locked and she fell to the ground writhing in pain. Deathly silence from the entire crowd as she was tended to and then she was up and helped off the floor to a strong ovation from everyone. Such was her game up until then, earning respect from all who watched. 20 points, 6 rebounds, gritty defense, leadership.
Roberts’ absence affected the Cowgirls on the offensive end and the Rams were able to put the clamps on with their sticky man-to-man defense. A Hannah Tvrdy 3-ball pushed the Rams back into the lead at 46-45 and that was the score when CSU coach Ryun Williams took a timeout with 6:16 remaining. The action drawn up led to a Stine Austgulen 3-ball assisted by Nystrom. Nystrom followed with a block on the defensive end, then assisted Gustavsson on a mid-range jumper that pushed the Rams into a 51-45 lead.
With Wyoming struggling to score, the lead almost felt safe.
But the Cowgirls Natalie Baker was having no part of that as she somehow found a way to draw a foul and drain a pair of FTs, then grab an offensive board in the midst of 4 Rams to score a putback layup and bring her team some hope at 53-49.
Another timeout called by Williams. He called a set that ISO-ed Ellen Nystrom on a smaller defender and she drained a short jumper. A forced turnover and a layup by Tvrdy (off a feed from Nystrom) and the Rams were almost home free at 57-49. But again the Cowgirls Baker delivered, this time a three-ball and the Rams’ lead was down to 5.
Some hope for sure.
But theres a reason Nystrom and Gustavsson are seeking their 4th straight title. They are winners.
And when Nystrom found Gustavsson open for a layup the lead was back to 7. Nystrom calmly drained a pair of FT’s after a WYO layup and the Rams had scored a huge win.
Gustavsson had scored 26 and grabbed 8 boards at games end. Nystrom had scored 18, grabbed 9 rebounds, and delivered 6 assists. No double doubles on this night. Just 40 minutes of great basketball over the entire 94′. The Rams Hannah Tvrdy finished with 9, 7 of which came in the final quarter and she too played all 40 minutes.
Roberts night had ended prematurely. But Baker had picked up the slack for her fallen teammate, scoring 7 of her team’s 9 fourth quarter points. She finished with 11 and Ligocki had 10. The Cowgirls had fallen short on the scoreboard but delivered a winning performance over the 40 minutes. And they had sent a strong message that even without their fallen leader Liv Roberts, they would still be a force to contend with through the stretch drive.
The two best coaching staffs in the MWC were in Moby. And it really shows in the quality of play by both teams on both ends of the floor. Both teams play smart and are well-organized. They force teams to defend with their offensive movement and they defend physically without fouling.
Its also nice to see the respect both staffs have for each other and the opposing players. Rivalry for sure. But not with any nonsense.
One final thought…
We’ll never know if the outcome would have been different had Roberts not suffered her injury. She was certainly having one of those special nights and there was a distinct possibility the Cowgirls were on their way to a famous victory.
But in the end, the Rams won the game. And they did it because they have a special pair of players in Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson who win.
Its as simple as that.
CSU’s MWC regular season record in their 4 years is now 60-8.
That is flat out amazing.
And so are they.
I’ve been a college basketball fan for most of my life after attending my first D-1 game over 50 years ago. I’ve been a Mens Basketball season ticket holder for 15 years. I became a Women’s Basketball season ticket holder three seasons ago. I sit in the exact same seat in Moby for both teams. Moby is my winter home for 35+ days and nights.
And this year has been awesome so far as the two Rams’ squads have combined for the best combined record in MWC games.
And its not just that the teams are winning with regularity. Its the level of play of 4 extraordinary seniors.
Gian Clavell, Elie Gustavsson, Ellen Nystrom, and Emmanuel Omogbo.
Three E’s and a G.
All the F’s dont dress for the Mens team (sorry, I couldnt resist).
It would take a while to list all of the season and career accomplishments of these four players. I’ll keep it simple.
Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson are shooting for their 4th consecutive MWC regular season title. In their 4 years at CSU they have started every MWC game and have compiled a record of 59-8 to date. The greatest womens or mens duo to ever play in the MWC. The score, they defend, they rebound, they win. Its that simple.
And yesterday at Fresno State, Ellen and Elie led their team to an amazing comeback overtime win to give the Rams their first win in Fresno since 1997. That was in the Becky Hammon Era. Nystrom nailed the game-winner with 2.7 seconds, finishing the game with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Her 5th assist was a record setter. She passed all-time great Becky Hammon’s career assist record. And it was appropriate that the recipient of the assist was fellow Swede Gustavsson who finished the game with 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo have taken a difficult situation on their shoulders this season after the Rams were reduced to seven eligible scholarship players. Early struggles have been overcome and the two players have elevated their games on both ends of the floor and pushed the Rams to a 9-4 record inconference.
Clavell has been averaging about 23 points over the last 7 games and Omogbo is a double-double waiting to happen. But its not just their stats, its their passion on the floor and their spirit to win that is driving the Rams right now. Yesterday, Clavell struggled until it was time to close the game out. And then he scored 13 points in 4 minutes. Omogbo was saddled with foul troubles and sat a bunch but still figured out a way to score 17 points and threaten to tear down the rim several times as he slashed his way to the hoop. Pure energy, pure effort, pure enjoyment for fans in the stands.
These five seniors have a combined 5 regular season games remaining in Moby this season. Two of them are against Wyoming. Border Wars are always big games but they will be huge this season. On the Womens side, CSU leads the MWC by only 1 game over Wyoming and the game on Wednesday night will go a long way toward deciding the regular season title. The men plays at Wyoming on Tuesday but the return match will be in early March on Senior Night. All games will be big.
Two great teams that play hard. Two great teams that deliver night after night. Four great seniors winding their careers down at CSU. All worthy of a great level of support by Ram fans.
I’ll be there for all 5 home games to cheer for Elie, Ellen, Emmanuel, and Gian.
I hope to see you all there.
Just 24 days earlier, the Rams had traveled to Fresno to take on the Bulldogs. The Rams suffered what was easily their worst defeat of the season as Fresno State scored a huge 78-57 win.
After the game, Coach Larry Eustachy pretty much wrote off the loss. He also in not so many words stated that his Rams team would beat the Bulldogs in their rematch in Fort Collins. At the time the Rams had just suffered two double-digit losses and it seemed like an empty promise compromised of hot air.
Eustachy was 100% right.
Because on this Saturday afternoon in Moby in front of the biggest and most boisterous crowd of the MWC schedule, the Rams scored their 3rd straight double-digit win as the effectively shut down the Bulldogs with stifling half-court defense, a lesson in tempo control, and timely shooting.
As in many previous games, the Rams were cold from the field at the start. They fell behind 11-6 but it wasnt a big deal as they were shooting only 16%. They were forcing Fresno into turnovers and you could feel that if that could continue and the shooting turned around, CSU would get it turned around.
Everyone expected it to be Emmanuel Omogbo and Gian Clavell to start them on their way back. But Clavell was cold and Omogbo was on the bench with 2 fouls.
And up stepped JD Paige, the rangy 6’4″ guard from Denver. A corner three, a deep three late in the clock, another three from the top of the key. And when he closed the half with another corner three, he had brought the Rams into a 31-29 lead at the buzzer
(Well kind of. More on that later)
Those of us who cheer on the Rams had seen this script before. The Rams were doing lots right but needed to do a better job getting to the rim offensively while continuing their outstanding D. They have been a second half team all year and there was no reason to believe they wouldnt find a way to win.
And once again the Rams exploded in the second half. They attacked the rim, they continued to defend, they made perimeter shots, they rebounded like crazy. An early burst had pushed the lead to 47-36 at the under 12 media timeout.
And then it was Gian Clavell time.
The 6’4″ senior has easily been playing his best ball on both ends of the floor. After a rough go at Moby against New Mexico and the rough one in Fresno, he has elevated his game and his on court leadership to propel the Rams to the top group in the MWC standings.
And it would be no different on this night as Clavell ran off 13 points in a span of 4 minutes. That 47-36 lead grew to 66-43 and it was game, set, match.
The last bucket was a long-range three that was a microcosm on how this CSU team plays. A defensive deflection by Omogbo, a steal by Koelliker, a long pass to Omogbo, a save through the legs by Omogbo, a catch and pass by Nixon, a catch and handoff by Koelliker, a 30-footer by Clavell. SWISH! All taking place in about 5 seconds.
Here’s a link to the video. The play described comes at the end of the highlights:
The only drama left would be if walk-on Juan Sabino would score. He wouldnt. He did fill up the stat sheet with a steal and a pair of turnovers in the final minute.
At games end, the final score flattered the visitors. The Rams had curbed the Dogs.
One More thought…
This team is growing. Its taken a bit of time to find a style that works with a 7-player rotation. WHile they have hung their collective hats on the defensive end and on the glass, they have had to learn how to temper their individual desires to play fast on the offensive end and tempo the game down. Some opponents dont have the athletes to speed the Rams up. Fresno very definitely has the athletes and they were a formidable foe for the way the Rams need to play in order to win.And the Rams handled it.
Credit needs to go to Larry Eustachy and his staff who have helped this team find a formula that works and the ability to manage the game in a way to maintain that style on a consistent basis.
And credit needs to go to these seven players who have committed to playing together. My wife said something to me after yesterday’s game and it really rang true. She said “Those players really talk to each other during the game. I think that really helps.”
The Rams are now 9-4 in the MWC and sit a game out of first. These seven guys really are magnificent.
One final thought…
As promised, I have to mention a decision by an official at the end of the half. After JD Paige nailed the three-ball and the buzzer sounded, this ref decided to call a technical foul on JD Paige for unsporting behavior. Paige was a bit worked up and no doubt frustrated by a horrible foul call just 30 seconds earlier and evidently stared at the official. The official took it upon himself to call a technical, rather than approaching Paige and talking to him.
It was the single worst case of officiating I think I’ve ever seen in my life. The officials name was Brent Dumas. I dont think Ive ever seen him call a game in Moby. His partners were Dick Cartmell and Kevin Brill, two veteran refs. You could sense that both Cartmell and Brill were embarrassed by the decision of their fellow official.
After the New Mexico game, MWC Commissioner Craig Thompson announced a zero tolerance policy for behavior. I would hope that zero tolerance would apply to horrible officiating but I know it wont.
Its not often you see a team give a full 40-minute effort over the entire 94′ of the court.
But when you do you get a result like this.
And my words cant do justice to described what a comprehensive victory this was as the Rams delivered their best home victory of the season over the visiting Aggies from Utah State.
The game began slowly at a pace that was very much to the Rams’ favor and the they jumped out 7-0 over the first 5 minutes. The Aggies clawed their way back to tie the game several times, the last at 23 all. And then the Rams struck with a flurry. A free throw from Nico Carvacho, a pair of three-balls from Prentiss Nixon, and a staggering ankle-breaking step back three from Gian Clavell pushed the Rams into a 33-23 lead in the final minutes of the half. They finished the half with their best defensive work.
Much like the Muhammed Ali Rope-a-Dope versus George Foreman in Zaire, the Rams had delivered the Rope-A-Dope. They had effectively dumbed the game down, saving energy and then hit the Aggies hard and quick.
The Rams have been a second half team for much of the year and I could feel a blowout coming. And when the Rams came out hard and attacked the rim to start the second half, my feeling was confirmed as the Rams quickly built their lead to 17.
Utah State fought back and got the lead down to 9 but that was the closest they would come as the Rams played suffocating defense without committing fouls, found Carvacho for easy dunks, and handled the ball effectively.
A comeback by the Aggies could have been in the cards but Gian Clavell made sure that didnt happen as he singlehandedly took over on the offensive end, draining a turnaround baseline jumper and following it with 4 consecutive 3-balls. It was offense of the highest order, a treat for a fan to watch.
The Rams had their 3rd consecutive victory and moved their MWC record to 8-4.
The Magnificent Seven had been magnificent.
Gian Clavell went off on the offensive end but it was his defensive work on the Aggies’ Jalen Moore that really stood out. More was a Pre-Season All-Conference pick and a candidate for MWC Player of the Year. At 6’7″ he’s a hard guard because he’s agile, can handle the ball, and score from both inside and out. A smaller Clavell worked his butt off to stay in front of Moore, contested every shot, and made Moore work for every point. At game’s end Moore had 10 points on 4-15 shooting. Most of his points came when Clavell was switched off on another defender.
And while Clavell’s effort needs to be called out, the team defense was absolutely brilliant over the entire game. Utah State had few open looks. Even perimeter shots were well-contested for the most part. And the Rams only committed 10 fouls over the entire game in doing it. Those contested shots came with only 4 free throws for the entire game.
Speaking of not many fouls, this game had to be the quickest televised game played in D-1 this year. One hour and 40 minutes. Both teams deserve credit for playing hard, smart and clean basketball. And Utah State coach Tim Duryea deserves credit for not ruining the game by having his team foul when they were down 16 in the final two minutes.
One final thought…
Usually my wife attends games with me but she stayed home this night. I went with my son instead. When I got home my wife asked me “Who played well?”
I answered “Everybody”
I already talked about Gian Clavell. Emmanuel Omogbo delivered his trademark double-double. Prentiss Nixon filled up the stat sheet with 11, 7, and a career high 7 assists, many of which were to Nico Carvacho. Carvacho was a presence in the paint and finished with 11 and 8. JD Paige played his quiet but effective game as he is the one who controls the game tempo. And both Braden Koelliker and Anthony Bonner performed their bench roles perfectly.
Everyone was engaged, everyone was working together. It was truly a team clicking on all 7 cylinders.