There was no sign of rust as the Colorado State men’s basketball team took care of business Wednesday night with a 78-62 win at Nevada.
The Rams (25-5, 12-5 MW) did not miss as beat after having a week off, and the return of J.J. Avila proved too much for the Wolf Pack (9-20, 5-12 MW) to handle.
The senior forward made up for lost time after missing the previous meeting between the teams due to suspension, and recently missing Senior Night against San Jose State with back spasms. Avila was unstoppable from the start, pouring in 18 first-half points on 8-for-10 shooting. He finished with 27 points.
“I feel great,” Avila said. “The training staff did a great job on me these past few weeks. I didn’t try to do too much but just took whatever the defense gave me.”
The Rams were all over Nevada defensively from the opening tip. They set the tone by forcing turnovers and jump balls with their active hands. Stanton Kidd and Avila got them going offensively by combining to score the team’s first 13 points.
CSU head coach Larry Eustachy applauded his team for their effort and focus in a game that would have been easy to overlook.
“I have never had a team in my career that has been as ready to play as this group,” Eustachy said “… Credit to the players. That’s what it is all about.”
Nevada showed more resilience than in their first meeting with the Rams, but had no strategy for containing Avila. At one point, he caught the ball on the right wing before driving and backing Lucas Stivrins all the way to the left block. Help never came and Avila laid it in to put the Rams up 24-16.
A 4-point play by Gian Clavell added to the the lead. Then, John Gillon found a cutting Tiel Daniels to close the half and send the Rams into the break up 43-32.
Gillon came just short of a double-double with 10 points and nine assists in 23 minutes of action. As Eustachy pointed out after the game, the sophomore now has a combined 20 assists and just two turnovers in the two games against Nevada this season. Daniel Bejarano posted a his third double-double of the season with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I thought that it was a great group effort,” Eustachy said. “Everybody played a part.”
The Rams, who have become known for their 3-point shooting, did most of their damage around the rim. They outscored the Wolf Pack 28-16 in the paint in the first half.
The Wolfpack missed their first six shots of the second half, and their comeback efforts started to slow. CSU was able to gain some more separation with Avila again leading the way.
“Our biggest focus is defensively,” Avila said. “If we get the stops we need to get, we are going to score enough points to win the game.”
A 3-pointer by Joe De Ciman put the Rams up 55-37 and began a 15-2 run. Carlton Hurst capped off the run with a dunk to extend the lead to 67-39 at the 10:07 mark.
The Rams were able to coast for the rest of the contest. Although Eustachy was visibly upset with his team’s effort over the final 10 minutes, the result was never in jeopardy.
Tyron Criswell led the Wolf Pack with 15 points. A.J. West, the conference’s leading rebounder, grabbed nine boards but was held to eight points on 2-for-6 shooting. Michael Perez finished with seven points and six rebounds in the final home game of his college career.
“The past few practices, coach has been reiterating the importance of these last two games,” Avila said. “This is a huge win. It’s tough to win here.”
With the victory, the Rams remain in third place in the conference standings. Their 25 regular season wins is the most in program history.
CSU finishes up the regular season on the road against Utah State (18-11, 11-6 MW). The game is set for 7 p.m. Saturday and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports Rocky Mountain.
Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @emccarthy22.