LAS VEGAS – On to the semifinals.
Colorado State came away with a 71-59 win over Fresno State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament, and did so mostly without the help of its best player.
J.J. Avila left the game in the first half with what was diagnosed as a sprained ankle. But it would not stop the Rams from grinding out the win after building a lead behind marksmen-like shooting.
“Unfortunately, it was an adverse situation,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “But that’s when you find out most about guys.”
CSU started the game on a 8-0 run while FSU missed their first six field goals. The Bulldogs rallied back though thanks to some early CSU turnovers. Karachi Edo finished off a lob from Cezar Guerrero to cut the score to 10-9 before the teams began to trade baskets.
But when Avila went down with his team up 17-14 at the 6:45 mark, it sparked a heightened level of play from the Rams. Daniel Bejarano took control, and reserves Gian Clavell and John Gillon provided a huge lift as well.
“We recognize when someone goes down, especially our main player, other guys have to step up,” Bejarano said. “That’s exactly what we did.”
Clavell hit a three on the next possession that began a barrage of threes. The Rams scored 21 straight points on 3-point attempts. Bejarano, Gillon, Kidd and De Ciman all hit from deep and Clavell made all three free throws after being fouled on another attempt. Bejarano led all scorers with 19 points and nine rebounds.
CSU ended the first half on a 17-3 run over the final four minutes and carried a 40-22 lead into the break. The Rams made eight of 13 3-point attempts in the first half.
“They were just falling in, thank God,” Bejarano said. “We got too trigger happy in the second half.”
After nearly shooting the lights out in the Thomas & Mack Center, the Rams cooled off and had trouble getting the same looks to fall. They made just two of their first 10 field goal attempts in the second frame as FSU quietly crept back into the game with a 13-2 run.
Marvelle Harris rimmed in a 3-pointer to cut the score to 47-41 at the 13:02 mark. But De Ciman responded with a three of his own before Kidd completed an and-one to really stifle FSU’s push.
The rest of the game came down to hustle plays, rebounding and free throw shooting. The Rams got back to the gritty style that has carried them in the past when their shooting touch disappears.
Whether it was Tiel Daniels grabbing offensive boards, Kidd diving after loose balls or Clavell forcing turnovers, CSU managed to close the game out with the hard-nosed play.
“They took it to another level,” Eustachy said. “I’ve always told them the body can take a lot, it’s just how far you want to push it. They went to a level that I’ve never seen before.”
Now, the Rams must get ready for the semifinal matchup with San Diego State.
“We split with San Diego State, now we’re on a neutral court,” Bejarano said. “They took care of business on their court, we took care of business on our court, so now we’re on a neutral court.”
However, Avila’s status for the game is still uncertain. Eustachy said that if it is just a matter of pain, Avila will probably play. But if there is a possibility of doing more damage and further aggravating the injury, he will not.
Avila will have X-rays performed tomorrow. For now, the team is preparing for any scenario.
“He’s going to do everything in his power to play tomorrow,” Kidd said. “If he don’t, it’s a blow, but we adjust. We go to the lineup that coach have for us and I think we be perfectly fine.”
The Rams take on the Aztecs in the semifinals Friday at 9:30 p.m. MT. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.