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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.

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