FORT COLLINS –– The Colorado State men’s basketball team found itself in yet another back-and-forth affair at Moby Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a contest against UNLV that saw 12 ties and 18 lead changes, someone had to prevail eventually.
So, as CSU star sophomore Isaiah Stevens has grown accustomed to, he called game. As part of a team-most 22 points, Stevens scored the Rams final five points including the game-winning 3-pointer with 27 seconds remaining en route to an 83-80 victory over the Rebels (1-6, 0-2 Mountain West).
“Just stay steady, stay confident,” Stevens said. “That’s what we were preaching in the huddle. Even though we were getting hit with a lot of tough shots, we still had a lead for a lot of that time. So just play like we’re winning, play confident, play tough. Coming down the stretch, that’s what I was thinking. And then just stay ready because the ball is probably gonna end up finding its way to me.”
While maintaining sole possession of second place in the Mountain West, coach Niko Medved’s squad improved to 8-2 overall and 5-1 in conference play. Saturday’s tight-knit triumph also secured CSU’s second series sweep of the campaign after also besting the Rebels on Thursday.
To say the least, the Rams have obtained crucial close-game experience amid the season’s early stages. The young group has now proved victorious by three points in three of its last four games.
CSU would certainly love to win more comfortably. But the team also knows how beneficial this stretch could serve as the year progresses.
“Credit to them for making it a really, really competitive game,” Stevens said. “But also credit to our guys for battling all the way through. It’s huge for us. Our coaches say all the time that when you start to become a really good team, you’re gonna be in tough games because you’re gonna start playing against really good competition. So we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do. We’re a competitive group.”
Though the hosts grabbed a brief eight-point advantage midway through the first half, the action was neck and neck from then on as UNLV’s sharpshooting guard tandem assured a highly contested battle.
In the first half, junior Bryce Hamilton carried the visitors before totaling 28 points off a 10-for-21 clip from the floor. Over the closing 20 minutes, fellow junior David Jenkins caught fire upon concluding the festivities with a game-high 29 –– 20 of which came after the break.
“Those guys are tough shot-makers,” Medved said. “There’s no question about it. I think Hamilton is the best in our league. When guys like those see the ball go through the hoop a couple times, they’re in a rhythm. And then they start making difficult shots. You can’t allow players like that to get going. But we’ve got players the same way. When you let some of our guys get going and get in a rhythm that way, they can be very difficult to stop.”
While the Rams enjoyed a more balanced effort than the Rebels, as Medved alluded to, his team possesses multiple contributors who are quite dangerous when left open.
Namely, beyond Stevens taking charge in crunch time, David Roddy came up huge for CSU per usual. Highlighting an 18-point, six-rebound outing, Roddy cashed in an aggressive second-chance layup to tie the score at 78-78 with 1:18 to play.
John Tonje, who drew his first career start in light of what Medved described as a minor “internal matter” concerning Roddy, rose to the occasion as well, posting 15 points off 6-of-9 shooting.
Following a busy stretch, the Rams will enjoy some well-deserved rest before putting their clutch skills to the test at San Jose State (2-7, 0-5) on Jan. 14.
“For us, we’ll get a day off tomorrow,” Medved said. “We need it, we’ve earned it. We just played six games in 13 days. Then we’ll get back to the practice court. But you have to remember; then we have to play four in eight days on the road. So we have to make sure that we’re ready to rock. Just continue to learn, continue to grow. We have to continue to get better and be ready to play our best.”
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