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Rams Throttle Loyola Marymount 87-71 in Stevens’ Return

December 1, 2022

So there it was on Wednesday afternoon Twitter plain as day.

All-MWC guard Isaiah Stevens, the heart and soul of the Rams program under Coach Niko Medved since he stepped foot on the floor, was returning to the lineup after suffering a pre-season foot injury that required surgery. While he would be on a minutes count, there he was in the starting lineup.

Moby was buzzing during the player intro’s and Stevens drew the loudest roar, a roar of anticipation wrapped in love for the 6-foot senior.

And the Rams came our firing, seemingly energized by the return of their leader. It would be Stevens who would score the Rams’ first 5 points, nailing a vintage mid-range jumper off a curl and then another from beyond the arc.

More importantly, the Rams were pushing the pace at a level unseen this season. Some of the shot selection could have been better (they opened 1-9 from beyond the arc) but the decision-making was generally solid and the ball was flying around on the offensive end. At the same time, they were locking down the visitors defensively. It was intentional and it felt like a matter of time before the Rams would bust the game wide open.

The burst came late in the half when John Tonje and Isaiah Rivera nailed consecutive three-balls to punctuate a 13-2 run and build a 32-23 lead. A sloppy finish to the half kept the visitors in contact at 32-27. Not the most efficient but the pace and intensity made for an enthralling opening stanza and foreshadowed what was to come in the second half.

An 11-0 run early in the second half pushed the Rams into a 52-37 lead and they never took the foot off the gas. It led to a 55-point onslaught that had the visitors spinning. Stevens was doing his thing but it was driven home by the threesome of Tonje, Rivera, and Patrick Cartier, who led the Rams to 63% shooting from the field in the second half. 13-20 from 2, 6-10 from 3, and 79% from the stripe. Tonje and Rivera did it from the perimeter and on the drive, Cartier from the paint with a series of crafty and clever finishes against the physical bigs of LMU.

The Rams would finish with 5 players in double figures. Tonje led the was with 23, Rivera 19, Cartier 16, Stevens 13. And after a slow start, Jalen Lake caught fire and finished with 13. But the stat that stood out was 24 assists on 33 made baskets, a whopping 73%. Against a season-low 4 turnovers. The fast and assured ball movement paced them to a 40-26 advantage over a very physical opponent in the paint.

More importantly, this one felt different. Yes the Rams had gotten off to a solid start at 5-2 and scored some really good victories but this game was the Rams at another level. Yes it’s a team sport. Yes it’s about five guys playing as one. Yes it’s about an entire team of players delivering when they get their chances.

But make no mistake, this new level was driven by the return of Isaiah Stevens. The team now has a new standard to live up to. Basketball season just came alive, just in time for the toughest part of the non conference schedule.

Other Stuff

Swoll Man of the Match – There were lots of candidates but the award clearly goes to John Tonje who probably played his best game ever as a Ram. Tonje was fantastic on both ends of the floor. He was asked to guard the 6’6” 240 lb Keli Leaupepe, a solid PF FOR LMU and basically shut him down when the game was in the balance. He drover hard and scored at the rim. He shot 4-8 from beyond the arc, one of which resulted in a 4-point play. His best from the perimeter included a behind-the-back dribble, a rub of the defender on a ball screen, and a quick pull-up. And his night was punctuated when he stole a cross court pass in the forecourt and raced his way to a dunk where he absolutely engulfed the hoop.

Pace – Yes Isaiah Stevens brings points, assists, rebounds to the floor. But what he brings most is his ability to drive the pace of a game to a higher level which brings out the best in the rest of the team. Tonje, Rivera, and Lake will thrive as a result. Stevens was paired for a few minutes with Tavi Jackson and those two together can be devastating as they grow more comfortable together. The end result tonight was the highest Offensive Efficiency Rating of the season. And the visitors are a solid defensive squad.

Solid Officiating – If you sit near me, you’ll hear me hammer constantly on the officials. I cant help it. It’s the Philly in me. But just as officials get criticized some nights, I think it’s important to highlight when officials do a good job. Tonight’s crew of Gerry Pollard, Michael Irving, and Doran Gotshall were very good at letting the two teams play to their styles. CSU a fast-flowing and assertive style, the Lions a rugged and physical one. A well-officiated game game is one that has flow from both teams and this certainly fit that mold. Funny thing is I’ve never been that impressed with Pollard who has a strong reputation nationally. Tonight he was very good.

And Finally – It was great to be back in Moby! Due to some family medical issues, my wife and I spent the last three weeks in Salt Lake City. Tonight was our first regular season game. How blessed are we that it coincided with Isaiah’s return?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jan Carpenter permalink
    December 3, 2022 2:33 am

    I enjoy your recaps of the the games. Always right on and insightful. Thanks for your reaction to the games. Never disagree with your thoughts. 🙂

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