If you follow this blog you know that I dont ordinarily report when I’m not able to witness the game in person. But this was no ordinary game and the result was truly extraordinary.
There’s no need to do a blow-by-blow account. You can read the papers for that.
The Rams won because they were relentless and tough for 40 minutes. Tough is a word that can be overused. Its not as simple as getting a rebound in traffic, diving for a loose ball.
It is much more than the physical act. Toughness has a strong mental component as well.
And the Rams were mentally tough enough to stay committed to their style of basketball. A style which is dependent on tough and active team defense. This Ram team defends beautifully on the perimeter, led by JD Paige, Prentiss Nixon, and Devocio Butler and most recently Anthony Bonner. They held a strong perimeter shooting CU squad to 3-19. They are active in the paint, aggressively going after an missed shot. And while they were outrebounded by CU last night, they were not out-determined. Offensively, the Rams are not a good shooting team but they move the ball, limit turnovers, and aggressively attack the hoop which gets them to the free throw line.
The Rams won the game because they stayed true to who they are! That aint easy on the road in front of a loud and boisterous crowd.
I would be remiss if I didnt comment on the performances of Devocio Butler and Anthony Bonner off the bench.
While the rest of the team had made contributions early in the season, both Butler and Bonner were struggling. But last week CSU hosted what are known as cupcakes. Three of them. The type of games that you are expected to win in blowouts. But the coaching staff, rather than using the games to run up scores, used those 40 minutes to strengthen the team by playing different rotations that included a good number of minutes for both Butler and Bonner.
The final of the first cupcake game was much closer than expected. But it didnt matter. I was so encouraged by what I saw that I commented to another serious fan that the win was good because both Butler and Bonner had gained some traction. Their development continued through the next two games.
So it was no surprise when Devocio Butler scored 13 points and Anthony Bonner scored 6 points off the bench last night. 19 points between them. 9 more than the entire CU bench.
The loss of Gian Clavell was a blow. But rather than treating it as a setback, the team has moved on to make themselves better. More minutes for players like Bonner and Butler and they have responded beautifully.
I would also be remiss if I didnt comment on the emergence of sophomore guard JD Paige as the quiet leader of this team.
Emanuel Omogbo is arguably the best player on the team, but Paige has emerged as the calming force on the floor that gets the offense and defense organized. It was no surprise that the two biggest plays down the stretch came from JD.
The first was what looked like a Buff steal at midcourt when the Ram lead had been cut to 4. Paige immediately stole the ball back and drove hard to the rim, scoring a beautiful backhand reverse layup, pushing the lead back to 6.
And a few minutes later, Paige calmly drilled a three-ball at the end of the shot clock to push a Ram lead to 60-51 with about 3 minutes remaining. Not quite game, set, match but HUGE!
The Rams had scored a famous road victory over a Top 50 team. An important resume builder for March. But more importantly, they had played 40 minutes for themselves,their fans, and the name on the front of their jerseys.
That name is Colorado State.
One final thought…
CU is a very talented squad. They would also be very high up in the hairstyle rankings. Most of their players have really pretty hair. If hair could make a free throw, a perimeter shot, get a stop without fouling, CU would have a shot at going undefeated.
A little over midway through the first half the Rams trailed the Division 2 visitors from Durango 22-13.
My wife turned to me and said “This is embarrassing”.
She doesnt understand the subtleties of a screen and roll, defending a ball screen, boxing out. She understands effort and individual skills like shooting.
And boy she was right. The Rams were shooting about 25%, allowing Fort Lewis open looks as they were getitng beat down the floor, getting out-toughed on the boards by a smaller team.
Repeated pleas from the bench to get the ball inside went unheard. The Rams were settling for perimeter jumpers and many were not close to going in. The smallish crowd was relatively quiet and I swear I heard a rim cry in pain more than once.
A Che Bob three-ball gave the Rams their first lead of the game at 30-29 but Fort Lewis countered with an uncontested layup at the buzzer to head to the locker room with a lead. The visitors deserved at least that much if not more. CSU’s shooting percentage was 31% and they lost the battle on the boards 25-23.
Ram fans were hoping to see a second half performance much like they had in the previous game vs New Mexico State when the Rams has turned the game around with toughness and energy. They got their wish but it wasnt through the same effort for 20 minutes as early on CSU played some ole defense allowing the visitors to score easy baseline layups.
Offensively, they found success inside with Emmanuel Omogbo and Kimani Jackson. Then Che Bob happened.
Bob is a 6’6″ 220 lb player in his first year at CSU after playing at South Plains JC. He is a physical specimen (Hey Coach Bobo, you might want to take a look) with speed, strength, and solid finishing skills at the rim. A flurry of Bob steals, rebounds, layups, and free throws pushed the Ram lead to 9 midway thru the half but you knew it wouldnt be that easy down the stretch.
Fort Lewis cut the lead to 4 as the game approached the final minute and Larry Eustachy took a timeout. After a few passes the Rams got the ball to Omogbo in his sweet spot at the elbow, he slashed his way to the rim for a layup and the Rams were nearly home free. A few defensive possessions later and they had scored their win.
Omogbo finished the game with 20 points and 15 rebounds in a dominating performance. More importantly, he defended Fort Lewis big Riley Farris out of the game after Farris had repeatedly torched both Jackson and Nico Carvacho both inside and out. Bob finished with 20 and 7 in only 23 minutes.
When I was a kid growing up, there used to be a show on ABC on Saturday afternoon called “Wide World of Sports”. Hosted by the great Jim McKay, they traveled the globe to show all kinds of stuff. Once a year, they traveled to Islip Speedway on Long Island to show Demolition Derby. An event where cars smash into each other until only one car is still able to move and is declared the winner. As cool as it was to watch great international events, I could not wait until I got my annual fix of Demolition Derby.
The good news is that the 2016-17 Rams’ team is returning me to my youth. The bad news is that I’m not sure I want to watch Demolition Derby twice a week for the next four months. I need a trip to the art museum or the symphony too.
Plenty of coaches preach that the only thing you can control on the basketball court is your effort.
If that truly is the case, this year’s CSU Ram team are very good listeners as they somehow found a way to exert the effort required to come away with a win in their season opener over the visitors from Las Cruces, NM.
The Rams came into the game supposedly short-handed with the suspension of their best scorer Gian Clavell. They certainly were challenged offensively as they shot 33% from the field. But their heads never went down as they went about their business on the defensive end and on the glass, holding the Aggies to 36% shooting and winning the rebounding battle 47-35.
The Aggies came out of the gate fast and jumped out to a 19-8 lead after only 8 minutes. The Rams were looking discombobulated on offense, struggling to get good shots and throwing the ball around carelessly. After a timeout, the Rams began to attack the rim a little more which got them plenty of free throws and their defensive intensity picked up. Even though they only shot 27% from the field, the Rams trailed by only 32-29 as the teams headed to the locker room.
It looked like the first team to find a run would win the game since scoring from the field was at such a premium. The Rams opened with the first 6 but the Aggies came back and the game was tight for several minutes. Then newcomer Che Bob happened as he stole the ball at midcourt and dunked hard, bringing the crowd to its feet. Bob did it again as he ignited a Ram charge in the final 10 minutes with a crazy runner that he banked in while getting fouled.
The Rams pushed the lead to 10 but you could see that they were not home free as they had expended an extraordinary amount of energy and were looking gassed. But somehow they found a way to keep their nose in front, surviving some Aggie makes from the perimter and full-court pressure. A JD Paige deflection on the defensive end with 10 seconds remaining, a Paige free throw, and then solid perimeter defense finished off the visitors and gave this bunch of newcomers a great win.
JuCo transfer Braden Koelliker led the way with 21 and 9, scoring craftily at the rim, hustling his way to rebounds, and making his charity tosses. Bob came off the bench to deliver 11 and 8 and veteran leader Emmanuel Omogbo nearly delivered a double-double with 8 and 9.
Those are individual stats.
What won this game was the collective effort on the defensive end. They were led by JD Paige who delivered 33 minutes of crazy good on the ball defense in the halfcourt, running over tons of screens. He took a lot of hits and was visibly worn at the end but still delivered. Devocio Butler and Prentiss Nixon on the perimeter, Koelliker and Bob on the wings, Omogbo, Kimani Jackson, and Niko Carvacho in the paint. It was extraordinary team defense for a group playing their first game together.
1-0 is 1-0.
One final thought…
My wife is pretty perceptive as a fan. She may not understand everything going on but she noticed one thing thats very different about this team. She said, “There arent any showboaters on this team. No showing off. They just play.”
I like teams like that. A lot.
The Colorado State began their 2016-17 season in style with a resounding first-round Preseason-NIT win over the Summit League visitors. Visitors formerly known as The University of Nebraska-Omaha. Or UNO. Its easy to understand the name change. Wouldnt you rather be known as the team that Peyton Manning thought of every time he came to the line of scrimmage? And not as a family card game?
The Rams won handily as they never trailed. An early banked in three-ball pulled Omaha to a 3-3 tie but that was it as the Rams displayed their trademark switching man-to-man defense on one end and a patient zone offense on the other to steadily put the game on ice.
What is it about 2nd quarters with this program?
The Rams led 16-8 after one but outscored their opponents 15-4 in building an insurmountable 31-12 halftime lead. Liberal substitution in the 3rd quarter kept the margin the same but when Coach Ryun Williams rolled out the starters to begin the 4th quarter, the Rams pushed the margin to 30 before it was time to rest.
The Rams were led as expected by seniors Ellen Nystrom and Elie Gustavsson. Nystrom’s line read 22,5, and 5. Gustavsson’ read 13 and 8. Elie was very good as she scored at the rim and on graceful pull-up jumpers. Nystrom’s performance was sublime. 4-4 from the free throw line, 2-2 from beyond the arc, but the best was a lefty half-hook from 10′ that banked high off the glass and cleanly through the hoop. Are you kidding me? There are guys in the NBA that dont have that shot.
But as we all know, this is a 5-man game and the others made strides form the opening exhibition a week ago. The most improved is Hannah Tvrdy, a 2nd year transfer from Nebraska, who does all the little things well. Tvrdy had only 5 points but grabbed a ton of rebounds including several consecutive on the offensive end. Her leadership skills help take the pressure off Nystrom and free Ellen up to do her thing. Add Veronika Mrkovic and my new fave Sofie Trygerdsson to the mix and as they grow, so will the team.
But it is the concept of team and especially team defense which is allowing the program of 5th year coach Ryun Williams to thrive. They are strong both physically and mentally which allows them to effectively defend what appear to be mismatches caused by their switching style. Bigs defending on the perimeter, guards defending the post. It doesnt matter as these women fight their way into proper defending positions.
My wife commented to me that the crowd, while not large, was very loud and enthusiastic. I wish more people would show up and support these young ladies. We have been fortunate enough to have a pair of 4-year players from Sweden whose record now stands at a remarkable 80-18 since they’ve played here. Ryun Williams’ program has won over 30 straight regular season home games. They play the game well, they play the game hard, and they play it right.
I do know this. I’m a lucky man to be able to spend 15 or 20 days every winter with these wonderful ladies.
Happy Hew Year Ram hoops fans!
I gotta come clean. I sat down to write this immediately after returning home form the game but was unable to collect y thoughts because of what was happening on a day of the most extraordinary conclusion to a presidential election as has happened in my lifetime.
And I also have to come clean regarding how I voted. I am a lifelong Republican and have never voted for a Democrat for the office of President of the United States.
I voted for Hillary Clinton because I thought she would make a better leader of this great country of ours. I have never been a big fan of hers but thought she was superior to her opponent. It was a brutally awful campaign of painful negative rhetoric by both sides. And I was disgusted by it. I am glad its over.
That being said, I was excited to see a different Donald Trump during his acceptance speech. Not the crass, obnoxious attacking New Yorker but an American who expressed interest in healing the wounds and divisiveness that are pervasive and deep.
Now on to the game….
The Colorado State mens basketball team kicked off their 2016-17 season with a solid win over the D-2 visitors from the south in front of a loyal but a bit smallish crowd.
This 2016-17 edition is a very new team without a lot of game experience together. Seniors Gian Clavell and Emmanuel Omogbo are the two most familiar faces. They were joined in the starting lineup by a pair of sophomores (JD Paige and Prentiss Nixon) and redshirt freshman big Niko Carvacho. And all eyes were watching to see if this group could elevate their level of defense over last years squad whil finding rhe movement and chemistry on the offensive end to be effective in putting points on the board.
The early defense was good, Clavell nailed a pair of three-balls, and Carvacho went to work inside as the Rams ran out to an early 10-point lead. On came a bunch of newcomers off the bench and the Rams immediately fell victim to shoddy defense, careless turnovers, soft play on the boards, and generally poor play. A Regis layup propelled the Rangers into a short-lived lead. Back came the Rams starters and the Rams were able to go into the locker room at half with a 34-29 lead.
But then the tenor of the game changed.
Larry Eustachy did what he does best at halftime. He decided to shorten the bench, attack the paint offensively, and challenge his team to defend and finish by winning on the glass.
Offensively, the ball started to go inside more regularly to Carvacho and he delivered. Omogbo got the ball in positions where he could use his strengths to slash his way all the way to the basket. Omogbo also woke up on the glass and began to grab every board in his reach. The defense was steady but Regis hung tough as the Rams got a little careless on the offensive end with a few bad turnovers.
On came subs Devocio Butler and Braden Koelliker. Butler parlayed a solid defensive effort into a steal and layup. Koellier showed all-around skills on both ends of the floor.
The Rams eventually pulled away to win by a comfortable margin.
It was not a work of art but that is to be expected when a new team starts out a season. Butt there were lots of positive signs in that second half.
Gian Clavell struggled offensively but let the game come to him in the second half rather than forcing shots. Emmanuel Omogbo dominated on the glass. Niko Carvacho showed strong presence in the paint, a great pair of hands, and passing skills. JD Paige delivered the hoop of the game with a strong baseline drive and two hand flush but it was his steady performance on both ends of the floor that stood out. Prentiss Nixon started to look more comfortable moving from an energy role off the bench to backcourt leader. Braden Koelliker showed an all-round game, finishing strongly at the rim, passing effectively in the interior, and defending intelligently. Devocio Butler showed defensive tenacity.
There is lots of room for growth with the other three players. Kimani Jackson sat out due to illness. Anthony Bonner was visibly nervous. Che Bob made a couple of good plays but has the opportunity to develop focus on toughness at both ends of the floor. All three will be counted on over the course of the season.
This year’s Ram squad was picked to finish 7th in the MWC in the pre-season polls. They currently own a good number of the requisite skills to be a pretty good team.
And as we all learned after last night, polls dont mean a thing when it comes to winning and losing.
Time to get this blog cranked up for roughly the next four months!
And I’m excited.
Not because the CSU Women are three time defending regular season MWC champs. Not because they won the MWC Tournament last season and made their first NCAA appearance in nearly 15 years.
I’m excited because the start of a new season is a bit of a renewal. Basketball is one of the great team games where the whole can be made much greater than the sum of the parts. And while there are familiar faces like reigning MWC POY Ellen Nystrom and MWC Tourney MVP Elie Gustavsson, it is a brand spanking new team.
And they sure looked like one as they opened with inconsistent shooting (23-70 from the field), less than crisp passing leading to numerous turnovers, some unsteady defense on the interior.
Seniors Nystrom and Gustavsson had their moments as their roles have been elevated on the offensive end of the floor. They will be asked to do far more than in the past as the Rams replace a pair of All-MWC performers in Jamie Patrick and Keyora Wharry. But this team will only grow as the supporting cast develops the togetherness and chemistry with their leaders.
Hannah Tvrdy showed signs of becoming a reliable third scoring option, scoring inside and out on her way to a 13 point, 8 rebound evening and a solid floor game. Veronika Mrkovic grabbed 10 boards and was physical defensively in the paint. Stine Austgulen, instant offense off the bench last season, showed sparks as she adjusts to a new starting role.
Four sophomores who will be counted on – Amanda Kantzy, Callie Kaiser, Myan Ham, and Sofie T – also showed signs but were inconsistent on both ends.
A pair or freshmen – Jordyn Edwards and Leah Davis – displayed some skills that will be useful this season. Edwards is cat quick and has the requisite disposition to become a leader on the court. Davis has the skill set and the desire to park in the low block and score.
First game jitters are gone.
I’m dying to see what comes next.
I wasn’t a Red Wing fan growing up. I began as a Philadelphia Flyer fan and later moved on to follow the New York Islanders after moving to Long Island. I knew of Gordie Howe. Mr Hockey. A tough guy who could score with the best of them. Known for the Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, an assist, and a fight. As everybody knows by now, he played into his 50’s.
I never played hockey. My son decided he wanted to play hockey when he watched an Islander-Capital playoff game that went four OT’s before Pat LaFontaine scored the winning goal for the Isles. I drove him to practice, I helped tie his skates. And then I volunteered to help on the Board of Directors of the local youth hockey association (Northern Colorado Youth Hockey.
That board was filled with some pretty amazing parents whose love for hockey helped the association through a start-up phase. Well known names in Northen Colorado like the Visockys. And a couple of parents named Jim and Connie Dye. Jim and Connie had it in their minds to invite Gordie Howe to Fort Collins to be the name and face of a local youth hockey tournament. It would cost a pretty healthy sum of money at the time but Jim and Connie believed it would be worth it.
And so sometime around 1990 Gordie Howe and his lovely bride Colleen came to Fort Collins. Part of the deal was a dinner for members of the NCYH Board of Directors with the Howe’s. And so I go to spend an evening in the company of the greatest hockey player (sorry Wayne) who ever laced up a pair of skates.
It was a most incredible evening listening to Gordie tell his stories. He was engaging, passionate, and happy to talk about all things hockey. An evening I will always cherish.
The next day he did an on ice clinic with some of the young kids of which my son was one. My kid got to skate with Gordie Howe. Pass the puck with him. And when he tried to go around Gordie, out came the blade of the stick to trip him to the ice. A classic play that had us all laughing.
Gordie Howe was a great player. But his passion for the game, his tireless energy visiting towns like Fort Collins to promote the game, and his genuine love for all people made him larger than life.
They just don’t make them like that anymore.