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Colorado State 81 – Northern Colorado 64

December 12, 2016

On paper this looked like little more than an intra-state rival game with a somewhat undermatched opponent.

But it was way more than that.

Because last season the Rams had traveled to Greeley for a similar looking match-up and had their heads handed to them in what was to be one of the worst defeats in recent years.  And it wasnt that they lost but how they had lost, looking unprepared, careless, and disinterested, expecially on the defensive end of the floor.  And with the game on the line and players looking for support and coaching, they were abandoned by their coaching staff.

Fast forward to the present.  The Rams are a brand new team with only a few returning players.  The Bears have a new head coach brought in because of some serious NCAA allegations.  The Rams are learning game by game but so are the Bears who have traveled all over to face nationally recognized teams like Butler, Arizona, and Oklahoma.

And so it was very much a game of interest for players, coaches, and fans alike.

The Rams led after the first half but only by a score of 34-33.  They had played well for most of the half but a sloppy final minute that featured a wide open 3 by UNCs talented guard Jordan Davis, a bad turnover, and then a bad foul on UNCs best perimeter sharpshooter Chaz Glotta with converted FT’s cut the lead quickly from 7 to 1.

Gian Clavell had returned to the team but his contribution off the bench was minimal.

But just as they’ve done in several recent games,the Rams came out and delivered a clinic in the second half.

It wasn’t that they had been bad in the first half.  Sure they took too many perimeter shots on offense and sure they had not been 100% dialed in defensively but they were more determined and focused on both ends of the floor. They locked in on D, giving UNC few good looks and attacked the rim hard offensively, scoring layups and free throws.

CSU scored the first 6 points of the half over 3 minutes.  I turned to one of my fellow fans and said something like “If our guys could just score a little easier, they could run this thing up quickly”.  Thats how dialed in they were.

Lo and behold, it was as if the guys on the floor heard me because they started to score.  Lots of easy hoops because of smart attacking play.  A Prentiss Nixon drive that resulted in a hard cut and lay-in by Devocio Butler. An Anthony Bonner steal, a classic fast break with Bonner pulling up at the free throw line to deliver a perfect bounce pass to a hard-cutting Butler for another easy lay-in.

Next thing you knew the Rams had pushed their lead to 65-45 with just under 10 minutes remaining.  A pulsating  31-12 run that featured hard-nosed, smart basketball. All that was left for the Rams was to finish the game out which they did.

Butler led the way with 19 points; nearly half came from the perimeter but the rest came from hard attacks at the rim, including a steal and breakaway tomahawk dunk. Clavell had heated up in the second half, scoring a pair of beautiful baskets attacking the paint and a pair of perimeter jumpers; he finished with 15.  Nixon and JD Paige had played their 94′ games and finished with 21 points and 6 assists between them. And on a day where Emmanuel Omogbo had spent a significant amount of time on the bench, Nico Carvacho delivered 13 and 11.

But most importantly, this years Rams had delivered a triumph that completely cleansed  last year’s result.  They had turned any looking back to the past into optimism going forward.

More thoughts…

Some people might think of what could have been if Gian Clavell had not been suspended for 9 games. I think its a waste of time to even think about it. Because his loss was a blessing.  It forced other guys to grow up a lot quicker by having to play more important minutes.  JD Paige has emerged as a true team leader. Prentiss Nixon isnt far behind Paige.  Omogbo has been the steadying force in the interior but Carvacho, Koelliker, and Jackson have emerged into solid players.  Devocio Butler has developed quickly into a major force off the bench for the Rams and Che Bob has games where he looks all world; both JuCos have gone from question marks to major contributors in only one month.  The biggest beneficiary of Clavells absence has been Anthony Bonner who has received more minutes and. developed into a reliable player off the bench.

I would argue that the Rams are better having lost Clavell. His return gives them 10 players instead of 9, allowing them to be stronger down the stretch of close games and a little more versatile in terms of the lineups that the staff can throw out on the floor.

I love watching teams come together, seeing players develop right before my eyes and the team chemistry that results.  The UNC game was a MAJOR step forward.

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