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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.

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