LAS VEGAS — Tiel Daniels said this week’s trip to Las Vegas was all about business for the Colorado State men’s basketball team, and the Rams took care of some Wednesday night at the Thomas and Mack Center.
CSU avoided the slow start that has doomed it in previous games and came out firing on all cylinders in a 80-61 win over San Jose State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament. The Rams took their time to get good looks from the field on one end while defending the interior on the other, two things they has failed to do all too often this season.
“Coach has been telling us this all year, but we didn’t really listen: start inside-out,” CSU senior guard Antwan Scott said. “That’s kind of what we did tonight, and it’s something we’re getting better at doing.”
The upperclassmen in the starting lineup set the tone, while freshman guard J.D. Paige provided a valuable lift off of the bench with an efficient 10 points.
Four Rams finished in double figures. Joe De Ciman and Scott led the team with 17 points a piece, while Omogbo notched a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
CSU head coach Larry Eustachy opted to counter SJSU’s length on the perimeter by taking advantage of a size advantage on the inside, often playing both of his big men together. Emmanuel Omogbo and Tiel Daniels made their presence felt early and often by scoring inside and crashing the offensive glass. The Rams outrebounded the Spartans 38-28.
“We try to get a lot of paint touches,” Omogbo said. “Coaches always yell out, ‘paint touches, paint touches’. Drive in and kick it out, then you’re going to get shooters open too, and the big guys are going to score.”
CSU jumped out to a quick 17-4 lead with both of its first two 3-pointers coming after offensive rebounds.
A brief 7-0 Spartans run cut the gap to 25-19, but Paige snapped it with another three, which sparked a 14-0 run of their own for the Rams.
“What really helps this team is when guys like (Paige) give you more depth, because you have more faith and trust in them and can play them longer,” Eustachy said.
Daniels punctuated the dominant first half with a mean two-handed slam over SJSU’s Frank Rogers. At the break, CSU led 43-24. The Rams’ five offense rebounds in the first half all led to baskets, giving them 12 second-chance points.
CSU shot a remarkable 61 percent from the field in the first half as a product of a patient offense, which has not always been the norm this season. John Gillon was lights out, going 4-for-4 in the first half, while also racking up two rebounds and two steals without committing a single turnover.
The Rams got right back to it in the second, with an offensive board by Omogbo leading to an and-one for Daniels. However, a few careless turnovers allowed the Spartans to creep back in. Rogers led SJSU with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The Rams survived the late push though as the deficit was too great for the Spartans to really cut into. SJSU shot just 36 percent from the field and connected on only three of 21 shots from behind the arc.
“Working on our rotations and things really helped us,” Scott said. “As Coach (Leonard) Perry and Coach (Larry Eustachy) always say, toe the (3-point line) now. Instead of being below the line, toe the line to keep them shooters from being comfortable. So, we toed the line and made them take deeper threes than they are used to.”
CSU now moves on to face Boise State in the quarterfinals Thursday at 9:30 p.m. MT. The Rams split the regular season series with the Broncos.
Collegian Sports Editor Emmett McCarthy can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.