Gritt Ryder sure looked healthy as could be Sunday afternoon.
The senior point guard led CSU to a 70-49 victory over the Illinois State Redbirds, scoring 22 pointsoff the bench after not practicing all week and sitting out CSU’s 54 point rout of Colorado School of Mines with an ankle injury suffered in the season opener against Hawaii.
“I told coach I would never practice all week again,” Ryder joked in the postgame press conference.
The senior provided some calmness and confidence to the Rams when she checked in. The Redbirds made their first five shots of the day, jumping out to an early 11-3 lead.
CSU was unable to find the bottom of the net to start, looking a little lost at times on offense as senior guard AJ Newton’s absence from Sunday’s lineup forced Keyora Wharry to bring up the ball. The Rams’ couple of early turnovers allowed Illinois State some easy fast break layups.
“You can tell we need her (Ryder) offensively,” CSU head coach Ryun Williams said. “We’re a mess without her. She’s our Peyton Manning, so to speak.”
“She brings a lot of energy, a lot of fighting spirit, and just calmed us down,” sophomore Ellen Nystrom said of Ryder’s point guard play. “We felt kind of stressed.”
ISU extended its lead to as much as nine, 19-10 before Ryder’s solid play helped spark a 15-5 run by CSU, allowing the Rams to catch the Redbirds at 24 points with 8 minutes left in the first half.
After CSU pulled ahead for first time in the game on a Ryder layup, it closed the first half on a 15-3 run lasting the half’s final six and a half minutes fueled by Ryder’s second three pointer and her assist to Victoria Wells on a backdoor cut for a layup. The Rams went into the break up 13 over the Redbirds, 40-27.
Williams credited not only Ryder for bringing energy off the bench to fend off ISU’s quick start, but also Hanne Mestdagh, who hit a three and snagged five rebounds in the first half.
“Gritt and Hanne were both the keys to that first half,” Williams said. “Gritt ran the show, but Hanne’s defensive energy and hitting shots, that was big.”
Ryder began the second half with her third three-pointer to put the Rams up 16, and then looked unstoppable after hitting a scoop shot in the lane before her fourth and fifth three-pointers paced the Rams as they went up by as much as 18, 59-41, with 9:25 remaining in the game.
From there, both teams went on a bit of a scoring drought. Neither team hit a basket until around the six minute mark. Mestdagh missed several open three pointers for CSU, and ISU was unable to create much of a good look on offense.
A trio of substitutes provided fresh legs for the Rams, though, and Victoria Wells came in to find Elin Gustavsson for an easy bucket before scoring a layup of her own on a strong take.
Ryder remained in the game from the time she checked in in the first half until the final minute, when she hit her sixth three to seal the deal, proving her ankle is stable.
“It was really nice (to play well), especially after not practicing all week,” Ryder said. “It’s always fun to have a good shooting day.”
The Rams maintained their control to cruise to the 21-point win. Despite the margin of victory, Williams emphasized a lot of improvement is still necessary for CSU to meet its high expectations for the season.
“We have to play better,” Williams said. “We’re going to play some teams that will really challenge us coming up. I need some kids to start growing up a little faster.”
With the win, CSU moves to 2-1 on the season while Illinois State is still looking for its first victory four games into the year.
CSU’s next game is Friday in Boulder against Texas Christian University in the Omni Hotels Classic.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @samlounz.