Colorado State took three quarters of the season to do it, but the Rams finally won with defense and rebounding, the two cornerstones of Larry Eustachy’s program.
Antwan Scott and John Gillon combining for 43 points didn’t hurt, either.
After an abysmal offensive first half, CSU stymied Nevada’s offense and pounded the Wolf Pack on the glass — who came into the game as the top defensive rebounding team in the Mountain West — en route to a 76-67 win in front of a crowd of 4,018 Saturday afternoon at Moby Arena.
CSU controlled the glass the entire game, and outrebounded the Wolf Pack 53-37, including a 20-8 advantage on the offensive end. The Wolf Pack shot a scorching 48 percent in the first half, but CSU was able limit Nevada to just 31 percent shooting in the second half.
“I think we bought in,” said Scott, who led all scorers with 23 points. “We won down the stretch because of defense, and we didn’t have any turnovers. At San Diego State, we had blown defensive assignments, and today it was defense and execution. It felt great to go out there and play defense, and win by playing defense.”
The win was the first of the season when shooting under 40 percent from the field for the Rams, who came into Saturday’s game as the best scoring team in the Mountain West, but also the worst in point allowed in the league.
CSU needed all the stops it could get, especially after a first half where the Rams shot just 27 percent from the field, and hit just 3 of 14 3-point attempts. At one point midway through the first frame, CSU turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions within a three-minute span, allowing Nevada to stretch its lead to 22-14 with 8:12 to go.
Despite eight first-half turnovers and its awful shooting performance, CSU trailed by just six, 33-27, heading into halftime.
The Rams, and their offense in particular came alive in the second half, as CSU closed the gap to just two on a jumper from junior guard John Gillon. Nevada kept them at arms distance though, staving CSU off until 6:24 mark, when a 3-pointer by Scott put the Rams in front 59-58. Nevada’s Lindsey Drew quickly responded with a jumper of his own, but the momentum in Moby Arena seemed to swing toward the home side.
Gillon and Scott took over in the final minutes, scoring 10 of CSU’s final 14 points, as the Rams blew it open at the end with defense and clutch free throw shooting.
After averaging just eight points per game over his last four contests, Gillon seemed to find his groove in the second half, scoring 18 of his 20 points in the final frame after just shooting just 1-for-2 in five minutes of first-half action.
“John struggled in the first half and sometimes he gets in his own way,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said. “He just needs to follow instructions and do what’s told. He’s still learning that, believe it or not, after three years. But we don’t win without him tonight. He was a big factor and he’d been struggling at times all year. That’s kind of the John Gillon we expected from the beginning of the year.”
Along with Scott and Gillon’s big scoring nights, junior Emmanuel Omogbo finished with a Dennis Rodman-like line of five points and 19 rebounds, eight of which game on the offensive end. He and Tiel Daniels, who nearly finished with a double-double (1o points and nine boards) outrebounded Nevada 14-8 on the offensive glass by themselves.
CSU’s 53 rebounds were a season-high in a regulation game, with the team’s actual season-high (73) coming in a double-overtime loss to UTEP Nov. 28.
“Coach (Eustachy) always say when big teams come in town, we always play big,” Omogbo said. “We outrebounded San Diego State here, and we just show up for big games here, but we have to show up all the time like that.”
The Rams return to action Wednesday against Boise State. The game tips off at 7 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN3.
Collegian Senior Sports Reporter Keegan Pope can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.