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Rams Fall 74-64 in Charleston Classic Semi-Final

November 19, 2022

In a game played not with a bang but a whimper, the Colorado State Rams were soundly defeated by the home standing Charleston Cougars. It was not an expected result nor was it surprising as the inexperience of the Rams was exploited by the locals.

Both teams opened slowly and traded scores. Much as they had against the previous night against South Carolina, the Rams were scoring inside. Unlike the previous night, they were allowing their opponent to score from the perimeter and on putbacks or free throws. The score was tied at 20 when a careless turnover led to an easy Charleston bucket and the game got away from CSU at that point.

The home team exploited the Rams to build a 37-27 halftime lead which they immediately built to 48-33 early in the second half. Last years tourney victory in the Virgin Isalands featured a pair of comebacks including a 21 point deficit. So there was hope.

The Rams clawed back and when Pat Cartier scored a layup with seven minutes remaining they were within 62-55.

From there, the Rams played what was their worst four minute sequence of the young season. It was a sequence that begged for the leadership of an Isaiah Stevens who was on the bench in street clothes. It was a sequence that demanded the others to step up and respond. And no one did.

A Cartier miss, a Cartier turnover, a Tonje miss, a Strong miss, a Strong turnover, and finally a Jackson turnover to polish off a 4-minute scoreless streak where the Rams deficit increased to 11. To their credit, the Rams continued to fight but never got it closer than 6. The final buzzer sounded and the locals went home happy.

For,the game, the Rams had outshot their opponents to the tune of 46% to 37%. They outscored their opponents 46-24 in the paint. But they had given up too many second chances which led to a huge disparity at the free throw line. Charleston shot 25 free throws and the Rams shot 8. They made 22 and the Rams made 4.

Isaiah Rivera led the Rams with 15 points. No other Ram finished in double figures. Every Ram who played recorded a rebound. Seven of the nine who played recorded an assist. Those team together positives were offset by the fact that all nine players had turnovers.

When Isaiah Stevens went down prior to the season with a foot injury many reacted with a Sky is Falling, the season is over. That couldnt have been further from the truth for this talented but inexperienced squad. But at the same time, everyone knew that the possibility would exist, that eventually there will be a game where the skill, intelligence, and experience of Stevens would be heavily missed.

And this was that game.

And now we await the response in the 3rd place game against Penn State on Sunday. A game that could very well be a Quad 1 game with post season implications.

Other Stuff

Swoll Man of the Match – Has to be Isaiah Rivera who seemed to be the only Ram able and willing to consistently and successfully attack on the offensive end. Everyone else laid an egg.

The Free Throw Disparity – I wasn’t there and I always rely on my physical presence to assess the quality of officiating. On paper there’s a huge disparity. But I saw nothing on my TV to give me any kind of feeling that CSU got a bad whistle. The home team was simply more aggressive and earned those trips to the line. But… I do have a huge gripe about one call. A Charleston player was being closely guarded by Baylor Hebb and went with a head high rip through move with the ball. He led with an elbow and Hebb was sent to the floor. After viewing replay, the officials decided it was a normal basketball play. A HEAD HIGH RIP THROUGH WITH A LEADING ELBOW IS NOT A NORMAL BASKETBALL PLAY. IT IS A DIRTY PLAY THAT CAN CAUSE INJURY! The NCAA wastes time on these stupid flop rules and can’t figure out that they need to do something about stuff that can actually injure people. In the meantime, I hope Baylor is OK.

Rams Pummel Gamecocks 85-52 in Charleston Classic

November 18, 2022

Connected, precise, relentless.

And ruthless.

For 40 minutes they stayed true to their principles of sharing the ball and loving the paint of the offensive end. And true to their principles of structure and organization on the defensive side. The result was a blowout of an SEC opponent of completely unexpected proportions.

The Rams began crisply by attacking the rim. According to Coach Niko Medved , “We wanted to make a big emphasis on staying on the attack. Paint touches lead to better shots.”. They showed this mentality right from the jump when John Tonje outran them for a thunderous dunk after the Cocks first bucket ( South Carolina’s only lead of the game lasted an entire 6 seconds).

At the under 12 minute timeout, the Rams led 14-12. And then, much like the previous game, they went on an extended run to establish a huge halftime lead. In the previous game against Weber State, the run was 28-6. In this game, it was 26-7.

It started on the defensive end as the Rams forced their opponents into difficult shots which resulted in 25% shooting for the half. They minimized the number of scoring opportunities by forcing 10 turnovers, a whopping 28.6% of South Carolina’s possessions. And the Rams finished their defensive work on the glass, rebounding 17 out of 22 opportunities. In their previous game with Clemson, the Cocks had garnered 45% of their offensive rebound chances; tonight it was half of that at 23%.

On the offensive end, they moved the ball quickly but played with patience and discipline as they exploited the Gamecocks interior defense. It was led by bigs James Moors and Patrick Cartier but, to be honest, the scoring was coming from everybody. There were dunks, there were uncontested layups. None better than the final attack of the half that featured a pick and pop opportunity at the top of the key between Tavi Jackson and Isaiah Rivera. South Carolina guarded Rivera had, Jackson penetrated into the paint, passed through the help defense to a wide open Moors who delivered a two-handed flush.

The lead was 40-19. The Rams had shot 59%. They had a whopping 30 points in the paint!

Closing out the Weber game earlier in the week in the second half was pretty much a formality at home, but tournament games are different animals. And when South Carolina opened the second half by making 4 consecutive three-balls, the Rams halftime lead had shrunk to 48-34.

A quick timeout, a simple discussion about what had got them to the lead, and off the Rams went on an extended run of 23-4 over the next nine minutes to lead 71-38. It was only then that the rest of the game became a formality which the Rams killed off professionally. One late play of note was the Rams slicing and dicing the Cocks zone defense with some tiki taka passing between Tavi, Cartier, and finally Joe Palmer for an uncontested layup.

James Moors led the way for the Rams with a career high 24 points and 9 rebounds. Tonje had 14, Isaiah Rivera and Pat Cartier had 12. And point guards Baylor Hebb and Tavi tag-teamed their way to a classy combined 9 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, against only 3 turnovers.

A win for the ages. An effort that earned them a chance to do it all over the next day.

Other Stuff

Swoll Man of the Match – James Moors. Duh. I already shared his outstanding numbers. But also worth noting is how adept James has become handling the ball at the top of the key, dribbling into handoffs, setting screens. CSU’s offense has characteristics of a Princeton offense and requires a big who can do exactly that. He’s also rolling to the rim effectively,and making uncontested three balls as well. Honorable mention to Isaiah Rivera who shot 5-7 from the floor and was a team high +29 in his 28 minutes on the floor.

What About Pat? – On top of Moors’ performance, Patrick Cartier threw down another master class on inside scoring. The D-2 All American transfer is as crafty as it comes when finishing at or near the rim with either hand. 5-6 from the field and 4 trips to the free throw line as well. Cartier and Moors delivered 36 points and 10 rebounds in their combined 37 minutes on the floor. What a tandem they are becoming!

And Then There’s GG – GG Jackson is a 5-star freshman who plays for South Carolina. He was considered the top player in the 2023 class until he reclassified to 2022. Most likely a one-and-done. Yes he’s talented. But he’s also petulant and selfish, demanding his teammates get him the ball. I never see CSU players demand the ball. I prefer team play where every player touches the ball and contributes. Where a player turns down a good shot to get his teammate a better shot. Sure GG finished with a strong 20 points and 7 rebounds. He also finished with a team high -32 in his 31 minutes. He’s got a lot to learn. Especially that combined team talent easily overcomes individual talons.

Rams Move to 3-0 With 77-52 Thrashing of Weber State

November 15, 2022

First of all, there will be no “Weber is not a state” jokes from me. And I will refer to them by the proper nickname Wildcats rather than the Grills. Because they are a solid smaller program that deserves respect. Numerous Big Sky Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances. Home to current MBA great Dame Lillard.

And while they are breaking in a new head coach, they returned all Big Sky forward Dillon Jones, a David Roddy lite at 6’6” and 235 pounds. They added transfers from solid programs such as San Diego State, Fresno State, Southern Illinois, and Tennessee. A dangerous opponent for sure.

Dangerous enough to Coach Niko Medved that he shared post-game that he was “worried about this game”.

The Rams jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, then came with their customary slew of turnovers that allowed the Wildcats to gain their first lead at 9-8.

But these turnovers were of a bit of a different variety. Many were forced by Weber as they forced Ram penetrators to spin and then threw multiple defenders at them in the paint. The under 12 timeout came and went and the Rams came out with a new sense of purpose.

They had started effectively on the defensive end and now they ratcheted their effort up a notch. At the same time, the found the proper pace to execute their halfcourt offense and their drives became more straighline to the rim.

First a 7-0 run, ended by a Wildcat free throw. Then an 8-0 run ended by a Wildcat 3-ball. Then a 13-2 run over the final minutes. In the end, the Rams had gone on a 12-minute 28-6 run and finished the half leading 36-15.

And it was Ram basketball at its best. Defensively, they were stopping Weber’s high screen action and forcing them into difficult shots. The guards and the bigs were communicating, dropping into proper spots, and Weber could not get near the rim. The Rams would hold the visitors to 20% shooting and force 10 turnovers.

On the offensive side, the Rams had unleashed their inside and outside attack. They shot just under 50% but were 7-14 from beyond the arc. And most importantly, they ended the half with only 6 turnovers. N9 turnovers in the final 12 minutes.

The second half was a formality as the Rams went to their bench generously and still built the lead to as big as 29. Near the 10 minute mark, the Rams had a lineup of two freshmen, two sophomores, and one D-3 transfer.

The Rams would end up shooting 53% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. They won the scoring battle in the paint to the tune 36-12. They won the points off turnovers battle 23-9. Final stats had Weber at 34% from the field including 21% from beyond the arc.

Nine players would play at least 15 minutes and the tenth played 9 minutes. In the end, the Rams were too much for the visitors. And not because the depth wore them out. It was because the quality off the bench was so good.

It was a perfect way to end the season opening three-game homestand.

Other Stuff

Swoll’s Man of the Match – If you know me at all, you know that I follow the English Premier League very closely. At the end of a match, the player voted by the media to have Ben the best player is named Man of the Match and handed a bottle of champagne. There will be no champagne from me. Just my opinion of who. In this game there were a ton of candidates. But I’m going with Tavi Jackson, the freshman point guard who is showing amazing maturity so early in his career. Tavi would finish the game with 14 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 3 steals against only 1 turnover. John Tonje and Jalen Lake Waldo came under heavy consideration.Tonje’s defensive effort on Webers Dillon Jones was fantastic. I asked Coach Medved if having to practice against Roddy last season helped John with his assignment and Niko responded “It definitely didn’t hurt!”

Speaking of Futbol – I saw a Twitter suggestion from my buddy Mike Rowe after the game. He was suggesting that CSU figure out a way to market Tavi’s #2 jersey with just t(e name Tavi on it. Not his last name Jackson. It would be an unbelievable NIL opportunity.

The Young and The Restless – As I mentioned earlier, CSU fielded a young and inexperienced lineup midway through the second half that went head to head with Many of Webers starters. Freshmen Tavi Jackson and Kyle Evans, sophomores Baylor Hebb and Jalen Lake, and senior transfer Joe Palmer. And there was no better example of the quality of this group than a play that began with a high screen by Evans with a dump off to him as he rolled into the paint. Rather than stumbling out of control, Evans gathered and fired a pass to Lake, who then passed to Palmer who buried the three-ball. What a play! Yes Lake, Jackson, and Hebb get minutes. But Evans and Palmer and players 10 and 11 on this squad and they made a play that would make the starters blush.

Evans’ Almighty – For the record, let it be known that freshman big Kyle Evans scored 5 points along with 2 rebounds and 2 assists. He finished nicely at the rim but his best quality is his vision and passing ability. He’s a perfect fit for the CSU offense that asks their bigs to be able distributors from the top of the key.

Strong Man – Ram fans have been anxiously looking forward to the debut of Senior transfer Josiah Strong. Strong has had health issues that have kept him out of practice until recently. In the short term his minutes will probably be limited until his conditioning improves. But what a debut it was! A first half that included 3-3 shooting including 2-2 from beyond the arc in only 8 minutes. A steal, a charge drawn on the defensive end. All 9f the feedback I (ave heard from people Outside the program rave about his defensive ability. Along with a 42% make rate from beyond the arc in high volume. How about this chemistry between he and Tavi!

Monday Morning Cup of Coffee – Opening Week Edition

November 14, 2022

Grab your favorite brew, sit back, and humor me as I wax poetic and ramble a lot on the opening week for the 2022-23 CSU Mens Basketball season.

I’m doing my best to cover the team from a distance. My wife and I are in Salt Lake City dealing with a family medical issue and will be here through Thanksgiving. You know I prefer to write only what I see with my eyes in person. Sometimes TV lies a bit.

But in this case I’m having so much fun watching this years squad grow up as they deal with how to play without two top players Isaiah Stevens and Josiah Strong. And it’s rewarding for me to write about it.

First off, a huge shoutout to the coaching staff for how well they have handled the initial shock and put together a rotation of players that is working well together. It’s beyond a “Next Man Up” mentality which would just insert another peg into a hole. It is a strategy that accepts that every player has his own strengths and weaknesses and figures out how to create team success out of that.

Second, a shoutout to the returning veterans John Tonje, James Moors, Isaiah Rivera, and Jalen Lake. Their combined passion, commitment, and effort has filled in for the leadership void missing from the absence of Stevens. Yes they are skilled players. But they are making sure their skills, for the most part, are used within the framework of CSU’s offensive and defensive systems.

That has led to a successful integration of newcomers Patrick Cartier and Tavi Jackson along with the vastly increased role of Baylor Hebb. And Joe Palmer to a lesser degree.

We’re watching players and team grow in front of us. That is exciting. And worth me writing about from 500 miles away.

The Importance of Halftime Adjustments

I’m going to ramble a little bit on this topic after what I thought was a great example this weekend.

CSU led visiting Southeast Louisiana 42-40: at the half after jumping out to an early 23-10 lead. They were shooting 8-15 from beyond the arc, a very high percentage. They were leading, they were shooting well, but it wasn’t enough. They decided to forego the perimeter shooting for the most part and attack the rim when the opportunity presented itself. They scored layups, they got to the free throw line. They only took six shots from beyond the arc, several of which were on inbounds plays and not while running the halfcourt offense. And they made none of those perimeter shots. And managed to pull away to an 80-69 win.

Contrast that with what happened at Wyoming yesterday against the same opponent.

The Pokes has fallen behind early but managed to go into halftime tied at 38. They were 12-32 from the field in the first half with 23 of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Nearly 75% of their shots from deep!

And it looked like they changed very little in the second half as they took 32 shots once again with 19 of those coming from beyond the arc. The perimeter shots stopped falling and, despite a furious rally, the Pokes fell at home to SE Louisiana by a score of 76-72.

Yes Wyoming is missing All-MWC big Graham Ike to injury. But they have what looks to be a pretty deep and talented roster that should have been allowed them to prevail. After all, they were 22-point favorites. But they chose pretty much the same strategy in the second half, probably assuming that the cream would rise to the top. Which it probably would have done of the game were 45 minutes. But games stop at 40.

CSU got a win. WYO took a loss.

I’m pinning it on halftime adjustments.

That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

PS. Alls fair in Love and War and college rivalries. It’s more than OK to smack a Poke fan about their loss, after what happened in Canvas on Saturday night. But whatever you do, accept the fact that the smack is temporary. Wyoming is still a very good team and will be very much a factor in this years MWC hoops race. Upsets happen – CU lost to Grambling and immediately followed that up with a resounding win over nationally ranked Tennessee.

How Are The Players That Transferred Out Doing?

As you all know, Dischon Thomas, Kendle Moore, Adam Thistlewood, and Jalen Scott all left CSU in the off-season.

Dischon Thomas is starting for Montana, who opened their season with a tough road swing to Duquesne and Xavier. In nearly 28 minutes of action, Dischon is averaging 15.5 points and 6 rebounds.

Adam transferred to Colorado School of Mines who opened their season this past weekend with a pair of wins. Adam averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in an average of 35 minutes of action. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Adam in the near future as he is headed toward the 1000 point mark for his career. He now stands at 915 points after his 30 to open the season for Mines.

Kendle Moore opened his season at Missouri State with a 20 minute 8 point, 4 rebound, 2 assist effort over Missouri S & T. But here’s the best part. Kendle has a road trip to BYU this week. I’m in Utah. While I cant make the CSU games currently, I’m planning a road trip to say hello to him and former CSU assistant Jace Herl.

Jalen Scott is currently playing limited minutes off the bench at South Plains College, a top 2-year program.

I’ll try to update their performances over the course of the season.

Strong Start, Strong Finish Lead to Rams’ 80-69 Win Over SE Louisiana

November 12, 2022

Coming off a nail biter in the season opener where the Rams had fallen behind early and given away a double digit lead late, it was obvious what the message was. Start fast and finish faster.

And that the Rams did as they opened a 23-10 lead midway through the first half as they were clicking on all cylinders. They were defending vigorously, running the floor, moving the ball and making shots inside and out.

But a funny thing happened on the way to what looked to be a blowout as the defensive intensity fell off, the ball handling became suspect, and the perimeter shots stopped falling. The Lions from Hammond, LA grabbed the opportunity and came roaring back by converting turnovers into easy points and making everything from the perimeter. Next thing you knew the Rams lead was only 42-40 at the half.

Both teams had shot 8-15 from beyond the arc when the horn sounded. The Rams advantage built at the free throw line through attacking the rim was negated by the Lions’ advantage at scoring off of turnovers.

The second half began much the same as the first half had ended with a subtle change. The Rams committed more heavily to attacking the rim and dominating the paint rather than settling for perimeter jumpers. They looked to be gaining some traction when they took a 60-51 lead midway through the half but once again the Lions clawed back to forge a 62-62 tie at the 7-minute mark.

Crunch time.

A thunderous two-handed dunk by CSU big James Moors gave the Rams a 66-62 and brought the crowd to its feet.

But the visitors weren’t going away as Sammi Pissis countered with a crazy tough 3-ball to bring them back to 66-65.And then the Rams took over. They were finishing defensive possessions with rebounds and executing smartly from the halfcourt offense, getting to the rim at will. Layups and free throws came in bunches. The five on the floor all scored down the stretch and the Rams pulled away in a way that was much different than in the opener. They were connected, they were efficient, they were ruthless.

They had learned the lesson from the first game in terms of the importance of starting fast and finishing strongly. And now the challenge will be how to continue the energy of a fast start so that they don’t produce a mid-game bagel.

Transfer big Patrick Cartier led six Rams in double figures with 17. Veterans John Tonje and Isaiah Rivera added 13 each, Moor had 11 on 5-5 shooting, and Jalen Lake and Tavi Jackson scored 10 each.

But in the end, it was a team performance. They call themselves Team Together. They won this game with a solid defensive effort with solid individual play and proper help. They finished with a 38-25 rebounding advantage through a complete team effort with six players gathering anywhere from 3 to 7 rebounds. They shared the ball to the tune of 20 assists. They ran their motion offense crisply with proper spacing and screening, allowing for effective rim attacks; 53% shooting and 27 trips to the free throw line.

They took another step or two forward.

Other Stuff

Bigs Were Big – The tandem of James Moors and Patrick Cartier were an efficient and lethal force against SE Louisiana. Combined they shot 10-14 from the field, 2-2 from beyond the arc, grabbed 9 rebounds, and delivered 2 assists against only 1 turnover in their 40 minutes on the floor. They were the Rams’ top performers from an Offensive Efficiency perspective.

Driving the Point Home – In the absence of consummate point guard Isaiah Stevens, Baylor Hebb and Tavi Jackson continue to have their moments good and bad. Not unexpected. Several creative assists for easy finishes at the rim, offset by sloppy turnovers leading to easy points for their opponents at the other end. Most importantly, both were targeted by the Lions’ iso offensive attacks and both handled their defensive business well, other than the odd defensive lapse in transition. It’s easy to forget that Isaiah Stevens wasn’t perfect when he was first starting out. Recency bias allows us to remember him only as the finished product. Both Hebb and Jackson are growing.

Lake Effect– Sophomore guard Jalen Lake played his most complete game as a Ram. 10 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists from his off-guard position. More importantly, he has become CSU’s most effective perimeter defender. His value to the team is reflected in his team-leading 35 minutes last night. The coaches know they need him on the floor in the absence of Stevens and Josiah Strong. He has always been a great perimeter shooter. He’s taking the next step this year attacking the rim and there’s no better example of that than his rim finish in the final minutes that effectively put the game to bed.

“There’s Only One Way To Get Experience and That’s To Get Experience”

November 10, 2022

If you watched Coach Niko Medved’s post Gardner Webb game presser, you would have heard him say this. And no truer words have been spoken.

There’s another expression you hear coaches around the college game use – “Get older, get better.” Its a strategy that have worked in the past for programs with strong LDS roots like BYU and Utah State. More recently, it’s a strategy that have been adopted by many D-1 programs.

With Fourth-year guard Isaiah Stevens out with injury and Fifth-year transfer guard Josiah Strong out with illness, CSU had a ton of experience on the bench. In their places, the Rams played Baylor Hebb for 20 minutes and Tavi Jackson for 26 minutes. Hebb had played a grand total of 142 minutes against Division 1 opponents in his previous two seasons. Jackson was making his Division 1 debut.

To add a little perspective, the opposing guards from Gardner Webb had either two or three seasons under their belts, averaging about 25 minutes per game in those season. Overall, Gardner Webb put a team on the floor that was the 89th most experienced D-1 team in the nation, averaging 2.15 years of experience.

And to give a little perspective how CSU compares to that, the Rams averaged 1.15 years of experience which ranks them 228th in the country.

To add another layer, here’s how fellow MWC teams looked in terms of experience on Opening Night:

SchoolNational RankExperience
Utah State212.81
San Diego State252.75
New Mexico702.35
San Jose State1072.02
Air Force2191.30
Experience – Source

Since Wyoming and Fresno State opened with non D-1 opponents, there is no data. Boise State opens tonight.

So you can see that given the current situation, Colorado State is the least experienced team in the Mountain West and well into the bottom half of the country.

Of course that changes dramatically when Stevens and Strong return. We’ll probably see a number more in the 2.5 range which puts them into the middle of the pack at the conference level and roughly into the Top 75.

So what we’re looking at is a short term challenge with a long term benefit. Jackson and Hebb get loads of playing time in the short term which can only strengthen the team when Stevens and Strong return.

They’re out there getting experience.

Rivera Buzzer Beater Completes 65-63 Comeback Victory Over Gardner Webb

November 8, 2022

An early deficit, an immense comeback that looked in jeopardy late, and finally a 15-foot jumper from the elbow by junior Isaiah Rivera to seal a season opening victory for the short-handed Rams.

A game that basically had it all.

A strong first half by the visiting Bulldogs had the Rams asking questions at the half as they went into the locker room trailing 36-25. The visitors had opened defensively with a 2-3 zone and switched in and out of that defense the entire half. They successfully flummoxed the Rams on the offensive end, taking them out of their rhythm and forcing 11 turnovers.

On their own defensive end, the Rams struggled to keep the Dogs from scoring at the rim. And struggled to finish possessions with rebounds. Gardner Webb ended the half with a double digit advantage in shot attempts which led to their double digit lead.

Halftime for the Rams meant time to regroup. Which meant how to stop the Bulldogs from scoring in the paint and taking care of the ball on the offensive end. Simple adjustments for sure.

The second half began and gradually the Rams crept back in the game. They were loading up the paint defensively and Gardner Webb struggled to generate any consistent offense. The Rams began to move the ball offensively, attacking the rim and creating open perimeter looks while protecting the ball. And the wave was beginning to gradually build up. The wave finally crashed on the visitors as transfer Joe Palmer banked in a three-ball and followed with a putback three the hard way to give the Rams a 4-point lead.

The wave continued to build as the Rams built their own 11-point lead inside the under 4 timeout. Important three balls from Patrick Cartier and Jalen Lake. The visitors looked to be put to bed.

Not so fast.

The Bulldogs clawed their was back into it as the Rams struggled with their slowdown offense and the visitors heated up from inside and out. A foul on a three point attempt, three makes, and all of a sudden the score was tied with 7 seconds remaining.

With the consummate closer Isaiah Stevens out with injury, the closing responsibilities have turned to Rivera. With more time left on the clock at the end of the first half, he patiently let the clock run down and then scored at the rim.

But now there were only seven seconds remaining and the Rams needed to go the length of the floor. Time for about seven dribbles and some kind of shot. Rivera attacked the forecourt from left to right, received a huge screen from forward Patrick Cartier that created space near the elbow. Rivera rose high and launched a high-arcing shot over the outstretched Dog defender and the ball fell through the net cleanly with less than one second remaining.

All that was left was for the Rams to close the game defensively and Rivera sealed the win when he intercepted a lowing that of court pass.

Celebration time!

For the game, the Rams shot their traditional 50% from the field, 40+% from beyond the arc. They struggled from the free throw line at only 14-21 but they had done enough. Senior John Tonje led the way with 16, Cartier came off the bench to score 12, and Rivera finished with 11. Individual heroics for sure.

But make no mistake about it. This was a program win. A poor first half, halftime adjustments, and a Team Together effort in a strong second half that produced enough for the Rams to get their collective noses home in front.

Other Stuff

What’s in a Name? – Once the season gets going, most of you know that I like to write a column on Monday titled Monday Morning Cup of Coffee. It’s origin was based on the “Coffee is for Closers” line from the move Glengarry Glen Ross and stems from Isaiah Stevens’ uncanny ability to close out halves and games. And now we have another Isaiah who is making his mark as a closer. It might be time for me to rename the column Morning Morning Cup of Coffee brought to you by guys named Isaiah. And even more importantly, it might be important for CSU to alway be recruiting at least one guy named Isaiah n every class.

Tonje and Finding Balance – With the absence of Stevens and Transfer Josiah Strong, the scoring leadership has been thrust John Tonje’s way. It is a role that he has not been asked to perform over 40 minutes since his high school,days in Omaha. He has the requisite skills in terms of perimeter shooting, shooting from the midrange, and scoring at the rim. His play on the court has mostly been defined as a 6th man energy kind of player and now his role has changed. It’s not an easy transition and there are times Tonje struggles with the Bull ina China Shop mentality that results in turnovers. As the season progresses, Tonje will need to learn how to best pick his spots with the appropriate style of play. His growth will be instrumental in the Rams success this year.

Cartier’s Second Half – Patrick Cartier came to CSU after an All-American career at the D-2 level. His has shown glimpses through practice and the exhibition season. He finally looked to be settling in during the second half of the Gardner Webb game after what looked like a nervy first half that included a surprising pair of misses from the free throw line. He was very good in the second half, scoring at the rim with crafty left hand finishes and draining an important three-pointer that came late in the shot clock. And he set the all important screen that freed Rivera for his gamewinner. He and James Moors are offering solid play at the center position to date.

Tavi’s Debut – Freshman point guard Taviontae Jackson entered the game at the under 16 minute timeout in the first half and he immediately showed his promise. A pair of slick assists, a finish at the rim and a three-pointer. He would finish with 7 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds against only 1 turnover. In terms of advanced stats, he had the highest Offensive Efficiency Rating of any Ram last night. I spoke to a very knowledgeable basketball mind outside of the CSU program and he thinks Jackson will be starting fro CSU by Christmas if not we’ll before. Jackson is a little behind due to illness and concussion but is steadily catching up. The coaching staff will face a challenge in the short term relative to his playing time vs Baylor Hebb and another challenge with how to use Jackson when Stevens come back. That makes for a lot of fun for fans.

The Jalen Lake Foul Called at the End – That was as bad a call as I have ever seen. CSU works hard on their end of game three-point defense and as Coach Medved said post-game, they especially focus on not fouling a three point shooter. There was no foul on that play. There was no contact. It was an absolutely horrible potentially game-changing call by referee Eric Curry, who has spent many a night making himself the center of attention rather than the players. At one point in the game, Curry made an awful charging call on Lake. Next possession came a makeup call against Gardner Webb from none other than Curry himself. Incredible!

And While I’m on the Topic of Officiating. Who we’re those other guys? I have never seen those other two members of the crew in Moby Arena. And I doubt we’ll ever see them again. Their names were Matt Basham and Dan Nowatkowski. Neither was listed among the top 200 refs in any of the previous seasons on the website. It appears they typically work lower level games at the D-2 and D-1 level. Basically they were bodies two and three of a three-man crew that offered Eric Curry no help. And believe me, Curry needs all the help he can get.

Rams Cruise to 91-52 Exhibition Win in 2022-23 Opener

October 29, 2022

The opponent was Metro State. A new head coach and a slew of new players. Sometimes you see upsets in these types of matchups. But let’s be fair. David vs Goliath wasnt in the cards for the Roadrunners. In fact, this was a case of the Wily Coyotes, err Rams dropping the proverbial Acme anvil on the visitors heads over 40 minutes of play.

Veterans John Tonje and Isaiah Rivera led the scoring with 19 and 18 respectively while newcomer Patrick Cartier chipped in 13. The Rams shot 53% from the field, 41% from beyond the arc, and a stellar 16-16 from the free throw line. They outrebounded the Roadrunners 40-30 and used their speed to dominate in fast break points 29-4.

The Rams struggled with early turnovers (6 in the first nine minutes) which kept the game close. It was clear that the game plan was to attack the paint rather then settle from the perimeter and some of the early decision making was poor. Tentative shots, poor passes, soft ball handling. They finally found their stride midway through the first half as the turnovers went away and , led by Rivera and Cartier, finished at the rim.

They led 45-29 at the half.

The second half featured more of the same in terms of attacking the rim and the payoff came midway through the second half as the Rams went on an extended 22-0 run allowing them to clear the bench for the final four minutes.

It was what you’d expect for the first time out, spanning the spectrum from disjointed to connected. Just what you’d expect with a new squad at the start of a new season. Effective but not necessarily pretty. A lot like watching an anvil fall on someone’s head.

No Tavi

With the absence of Isaiah Stevens, Ram fans were looking forward to seeing the point guard duties being share by Baylor Hebb and frosh Tavi Jackson. Unfortunately, Jackson sustained a concussion during the week and was on the bench in street clothes. Not an ideal situation in terms of his development but good for Hebb to get minutes in his expanded role. Hebb started slowly but came on in the second half, ending with 9 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes. Fans will have to wait to get a look at the dynamic Jackson.

Big Man by Committee

Bigs James Moors and Patrick Cartier mostly shared the Center position as the Rams went primarily with a small lineup . There were instances of the two on the floor at the same time. Over a combined 39 minutes, they scored 19 points on 7-10 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds. Cartier showed his quality interior finishing skills with a variety of crafty finished with either hand. They dominated the smaller bigs from Metro but there’s lots of room for growth as the two also combined for 7 turnovers.

Gardner Webb Next Up

The games are for real beginning on November 7th when Gardner Webb travels to Moby. Tavi Jackson is expected back and will probably be part of what looks like a 9-man rotation in the absence of Stevens. The Rams began the Metro game with a starting lineup of 5 holdovers – Tonje, Rivera, Jalen Lake, Hebb, and Moors. The bench is all newcomers and their development over the course of the season will be critical to the success of the team. Cartier, Josiah Strong, Joe Palmer, and Jackson all have important roles to play and Gardner Webb will offer a good opportunity for them to demonstrate their progress.

Moving Beyond the “Secret Scrimmage” vs Minnesota

October 24, 2022

Many of you might be aware that part of CSU’s preparation for the upcoming 2022-23 Mens basketball season included a scrimmage against the Big 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers.

These pre-season scrimmages are required to be behind closed doors. No fans. No media. Coaches are allowed to share the results but rarely do. Richard Pitino Jr of New Mexico was more than willing to share the results of his team’s scrimmage with Northern Arizona last weekend(a 69-67 loss). San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher did the same regarding their close loss to UCLA.

CSU Head Coach Niko Medved is one of those that chooses to keep the details of these secret scrimmages under wraps. So whatever you do, don’t ask me who won and who lost. Because I don’t know.

There was a report on a Minnesota fan message board ( that stated that Minnesota lost by 4 points. That I can neither confirm or deny. But here’s the post:

And somehow this video appeared on Twitter. I have no idea where it came from since both staffs are adamant about releasing any kind of tape from these closed door scrimmages:

Obviously games between two universities are competitive. Obviously, every athlete plays to win the game. But in the grand scheme of things, the outcome of the game on the scoreboard is secondary to what can be learned from the experience.

So what did the staff learn you ask?

My sources say that overall the staff was very encouraged by the experience. They were able to take a team with a lot of new faces on the road against a solid opponent and see how the offensive and defensive principles that they have been learning translated against someone other than themselves. Minutes were spread very equally among the entire squad to get a look at all of them.

It was an experience without the presence of Isaiah Stevens. Not just on the floor but off. Isaiah did not make the trip with the team. Don’t forget how important his presence is to the team, especially the pair of inexperienced point guards in Baylor Hebb and Tavi Jackson. The staff was very pleased with their performances. In Tavi’s case, double digit scoring mostly from getting into the paint and the free throw line. And some decent defensive contributions as well.

James Moors and Patrick Cartier were solid in the interior. Minnesota is loaded with talented bigs and both James and Patrick were able to score inside.

Offensively they moved the ball well and shot the ball well. Anybody who went to the intra-squad scrimmage could see that this team has all kinds of perimeter weapons. Illinois State transfer Josiah Strong is starting to emerge on the offensive side after suffering through recent illness that kept him out of practice for an extended period of time. Strong was, dare I say, strong against Minnesota.

I was told it was a very high-scoring affair. Realize that CSU did very little in terms of scouting their opponent and focused more on their principles. When I asked my source whether it was a poor defensive effort or a result of that lack of pre-scout, the answer back was “We’re going to look at the tape to figure that out.”

It’s all about the next steps and the Rams have a tremendous opportunity to grow over the next few days as they incorporate what they learned from the trip to Minnesota. Lots of encouraging signs. Balanced scoring and good shooting all over the court. A solid performance by the point guard tandem of Hebb/Jackson in place of the injured Isaiah Stevens. A fine performance by bigs James Moors/Patrick Cartier against a very big and physical Gopher forecourt.

Opportunities for growth and development. That’s why they play these games.

Reacting to the Stunning News of Injury to Isaiah Stevens

October 13, 2022

Quite simply, I felt absolutely awful when news came out regarding the foot injury to Isaiah Stevens via a tweet from DNVR’s Justin Michaels.

I was getting ready to watch the season opener of the defending Stanley Cup Champ Colorado Avalanche on TV when I saw the news.

My heart sank.

Because if you have followed my work for the last several years you know how much pleasure I get watching Isaiah Stevens lead the Rams on the basketball court. If you read my article last week, you know that.

Isaiah has been the centerpiece in CSU’s rise inside the Mountain West Conference and nationally over the past three years. His numbers speak for themselves. 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds. His leadership speaks in a record of 65-26 over his three years. The most MWC winning starts in the first three years of any player in the history of the MWC – that total is 39.

And in this day and age of easy transfers and NIL, an old school loyalty to the program that has given him the opportunity to display his talents and develop both on and off the court. Let’s be perfectly clear about this. Isaiah Stevens could have walked away from CSU this season to the tune of about 500k in NIL money if that was his priority. But he didn’t.

Sometimes life isn’t fair. We can bemoan injuries all we want in our own selfish ways because of our love for a team. But ultimately the burden of the pain falls onto the player himself and there is nothing we can do but let him know that we are thinking of him and pulling for him in his recovery. A little prayer here or there can help too.

The hope is for a recovery that will allow Isaiah to return this season in time for conference play. The truth is that foot injuries can be tricky and there are no guarantees of any return this season.

I subscribe to the belief that all things happen for a reason.

Maybe it’s a way of preparing the CSU program and us as fans for basketball life post Isaiah. Who knows?

But this I know.

Freshman Tavi Jackson and sophomore Baylor Hebb will be asked to man the point guard position by committee. They will be given opportunities to lead the Rams through the out of conference schedule and maybe more.

Neither is Isaiah Stevens. And it will not be fair to them to compare what they can do to what Isaiah has brought to the floor. Both offer skills that allowed them to star at the prep level and both are Division 1 athletes.

Jackson is a bit of an athletic freak who averaged nearly a triple-double as a prep in Las Vegas. It’s only a matter of time before these skills translate at the next level. This season was meant to be a way of easing him into the rigors of D-1 hoops as Stevens’ understudy. Now he’ll be drinking from a fire hose.

Hebb is a heady gym rat. Originally recruited by Loyola – Illinois, he transferred to CSU after his freshman season. He played minimal minutes last season and now will be asked to step in and play an integral role whether it be as starter or substitute.

The greater challenge is now for the staff to figure out a way to develop the proper chemistry in Stevens’ absence. As the quintessential point guard, Stevens’ knowledge of the offense is such that his game is built around using his skills to dictate the pace and flow of the game. He is easy for the other players to play off of and they know that if they are in the right spots, Stevens will get them the ball at the proper time for an easy look.

Can Stevens’ scoring skills be replaced?

15 points per game is a lot. Jackson and Hebb will score some but probably not as efficiently at Isaiah whose career numbers include 40% three-point shooting, 50% 2-point shooting, and 87% free throw shooting. The team will certainly suffer some on the offensive end but there are plenty of others available to step forward.

And then there’s the end of game prowess that Stevens has displayed over his first three years. Winning buckets, assists on winning buckets. There is no other player you want the ball in the hands of in the entire Mountain West Conference. I’m not sure CSU has had a better finisher in the last 20 years.

I even owe my Monday Morning Cup of Coffee column to Isaiah. It was born from the famous movie line from “Glengarry Glen Ross” that coffee is for closers. Isaiah is that closer.

There are no doubt challenges ahead for this years CSU Mens Basketball squad with the loss of Stevens. But the truth is that you can’t replace Isaiah Stevens. The challenge becomes one for how the team will re-invent themselves into a successful squad. That same challenge would have come next season after Isaiah had moved on. The timetable has been accelerated and there isn’t a heck of a lot of time before the 2022-23 season gets underway.

Yes there will be hiccups as the team searches for an identity without Isaiah. But the potential benefits are enormous.

Imagine how strong this team could become if and when Isaiah returns to the floor. Depth developed through the fire and intensity of real games, not practice and scrimmages. Not just Jackson and Hebb but the entire cast of players who will be asked to score that one extra basket, garner that one extra rebound, get that one defensive stop that will help the team win.

And on a grander scale, I end with this quote:

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.