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Colorado State 56 – San Diego State 55

February 26, 2017

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.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bruce permalink
    February 27, 2017 12:58 pm

    Missed the game but thanks for such a detailed writeup!!!

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