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Rams Open 2021-22 Campaign With 109-80 Blowout

November 10, 2021

Lets get the simple particulars out of the way.

In front of the largest opening game crowd in recent memory (7287), The Colorado State Rams rock-and-rolled their way to a huge win over 2020-21 NCAA Cinderella Oral Roberts University.

When this game showed up on the schedule as the opener there was some joy that they had been able to get such a good opponent to begin with. But there was a bit of a ”I’m not sure what Ive gotten us into” from the staff. A Sweet Sixteen opponent led by the 2021 national scoring champion Max Abmas.

But it clearly worked out as an eye opener that required a higher level of focus for the Rams who come into this season with lofty goals. Off-season work in the weight room and gym. Hard practices once the season officially opened. And an incredible amount of game preparation.

Last Friday I stopped by practice. I saw something I had never seen before. Four days prior to the game, the Rams were working on their defensive tactics for how they were going to effectively deal with an Oral Roberts offense that can absolutely control a game with their pace and their precision. Everything flows through Abmas, who can score from anywhere and create for his teammates. There was one goal. To make him shoot contested shots from the perimeter and to limit his trips to the free throw line.

Repeatedly, the Rams worked different scenarios for the different sets the Golden Eagles run. It was a very complex plan with different rules dependent on who was setting the screens for Abmas and where they were coming on the floor. One by one, the Rams’ guards took their turns as they drilled, drilled, and drilled some more. It sounds simple but its not. In order for the defense to deliver, all five guys have to operate as one. One breakdown and the Rams would be sent chasing the ball around the perimeter. a dark place where Oral Roberts killed teams like Ohio State and Florida last season in the NCAA Tournament

Under the game lights, the Rams rarely broke down. The CSU guard contingent led by Isaiah Stevens, Kendle Moore, Chandler Jacobs, and Jalen Lake held Abmas to 20 points on 1-9 shooting from beyond the arc and only one trip to the free throw line. The Rams held him to 2 assists. They basically turned him into a one-man show disconnected from the rest of his team. To his credit, Abmas showed why he is such a tough guy to guard with many clever finishes at the rim. But he was never really able to gain traction and put his own unique stamp on the game.

After working hard on their defensive tactics at said Friday practice, the team was given a 15-minute break and returned to the floor for a full 20-minute scrimmage with officials. Players rotated back and forth between Green and Gold teams as the Rams got their combinations ready. A lot of Small Ball lineups which led me to believe that the Rams would begin the game with their small ball lineup of Roddy, Stevens, Moore, Thistlewood, and Tonje. Which they did, primarily to ensure they had the quickness on the perimeter to successfully defend the Golden Eagles.

On to the game itself…

The first half of the game was well-played by both teams. After a bit of a slow start (two early Ram turnovers), the Rams slowly built a 10-point lead but the visitors quickly reeled them in and the game was within two before the Rams went on a late run to push their halftime lead to seven at 50-43.

Roddy and Stevens were struggling a bit as they tried to force the action a little too much. Oral Roberts was not going to let those two guys beat them, throwing extra defenders at both Stevens and Roddy every time they parried into the paint. The beneficiary was CSU’s John Tonje, who exploited the visitors to the tune of 15 first-half points.

Both Roddy and Moore had left the floor with injuries and were doubtful for the second half. Roddy with back spasms and Moore with an injured foot.

I tweeted the following:

The Rams opened the second half with a more traditional lineup of Dischon Thomas, Jacobs, Stevens, Thistlewood, and Tonje.

Tonje was to continue his dominant play on the offensive end as he attacked the rim with great physicality and skill. Shots were falling inside and out and the Rams were beginning to pull away. Their depth was on display as they brought players off the bench and never skipped a beat. Their defense was taking over the game, they were grabbing rebounds and scoring in transition, and they were executing their halfcourt offense with precision.

Plenty of great plays all around but none better than this one.

And I’m not joking about the gasps from the crowd from Tonje’s pass. It was rifled through the teeth of the defense. Somehow Isaiah Stevens caught the BB, attacked the rim and dished like he does for a Thomas dunk. The play was fantastic, the joy from players and fans alike radiated throughout the gym. IT WAS RAM BASKETBALL!

Tonje would finish the game with a career-high 31 points. Dischon Thomas came off the bench to deliver 16 along with 10 rebounds and 5 assists; his first double-double in a Ram uniform. Jacobs would score 16 on 6-6 shooting. Stevens delivered 13 with 6 assists. On a night where the usual suspects (Roddy, Stevens, Moore, and Thistlewood) scored only 25 of their customary 50 points, the depth of the Rams had emerged. A pair of improving bigs (Thomas and Moors), a slew of talented guards and wings (Tonje, Jacobs, Lake, Rivera, and Hebb) all of whom can run, pass, shoot, and defend had vaulted the Rams to a very big season opening win.

More on John Tonje

If you go back a couple of years and read my stuff, somewhere you’ll find me talking about a freshman named John Tonje who had the physical makeup and the shooting prowess of a future player. He was somewhat inexperienced and wasnt a very good defender when he arrived. And I would tell people (including John himself) that Tonje would emerge by his junior year and look very much the part of a Big Ten shooting guard.

John Tonje on right with Adam Thistlewood and PJ Byrd

He has worked hard on his strength and flexibility, his defense, and his overall game. He regularly goes one-on-one in practice with David Roddy and plays without fear in that match-up.

So if you ask if last night was a surprise, I would tell you that it was only the number of points that was surprising, not the high quality of John’s game. We were treated to the performance of a Big Ten shooting guard last night.

Add Dischon Thomas to the Equation

There is not a more improved played on the roster than Dischon Thomas, People forget that he was the highest rated recruit of that incredible 2019 class that included Roddy, Stevens, Tonje, and Moors. He arrived at CSU as a raw big man, skilled but lacking the strength and physicality to his game to make a consistent impact.

Dischon Thomas

Fast forward to 2021, Thomas has transformed his body and it shows on both ends of the floor. He is stronger, he is faster, and he’s much more lithe in the paint. He’s always had the perimeter shot, but now he’s scoring in the paint, he’s defending the rim, he’s running the floor, and he’s efficient at the top of the Rams’ halfcourt sets. 5 assists, 0 turnovers, and a swat of an Abmas layup attempt were living proof against Oral Roberts.

And here’s the other deal. At that Friday practice that I’ve referenced so much, I thought Thomas was the Rams’ best player. Thats how far he’s come on this team.

Budding Stars

Isaiah Rivera and Jalen Lake both has sensational games off the bench.

Rivera is a Swiss Army knife player whose game is very understated and efficient. He gets to the rim, he makes open shots, he guards with skill and physicality. 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist in only 11 minutes.

Lake is a highly touted freshman from Texas who possesses an incredible offensive game, especially in the midrange. He is also very advanced defensively for a young player. On a team as deep as CSU, he’s already earned valuable minutes off the bench at strategic times of the game. 8 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocked shots last night. A future All-MWC player in the offing.

Concerns About Breaking in Two Assistant Coaches?

NOPE!

I think we saw what new assistants Sam Jones and Brian Cooley bring to the party last night. And yes, it was a party.

Moby Was Rocking Last Night

I cant say enough about the students showing out last night. They filled the student section, they were loud, they were sometimes obnoxious (a ”We Want Oral” chant). When Moby is rocking, there aren’t too many better venues to see a game.

And when you get a large, energetic bunch like last night, the heat goes up. The actual temperature. One of the bummers of not having crowds last season was that Moby was flat out cold. You would see players rubbing their hands together to stay warm. There was none of that last night as the air was oppressive and the fans were sweaty.

And Finally…

I spoke to Coach Medved after Friday’s practice to get an interview set up with Isaiah Stevens on Ramnation.com Radio (it will be recorded tonight!). He was obviously excited about the home opener against Oral Roberts but he offered another piece of insight into what his program is all about.

To paraphrase, ”You know we could win in a 40-point blowout on Tuesday, we could lose in a 40-point blowout on Tuesday and the bottom line is that we’ll wake up on Wednesday November 10th and still have a full season ahead of us. Thats what its about.”

So much to look forward to with this year’s squad as they try and get better. But it sure feels good to see a 29-point blowout win with a team clicking on all cylinders. Lots ahead of them and nowhere to go but up!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Janice Carpenter permalink
    November 12, 2021 10:40 pm

    Thanks for writing. Always an informative and fun read.

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