After three consecutive setbacks, all it took was three minutes of lights-out play at both ends of the floor to help snap the skid and get the CSU men’s basketball team back in the win column on Wednesday night.
Trailing 43-36 with 3:06 left in the first half, the Rams (9-5, 1-0 MW) went on a furious run that swung the momentum of the game in their favor for the rest of the night, while on their way to a 91-77 win in their conference opener over the visiting Rebels (7-7, 0-1 MW) in a game that lasted well into the night as a result of a 9 p.m. start.
First, Gian Clavell stepped to the free throw line and made two shots to cut the deficit to five and begin the run, then Emmanuel Omogbo knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the Rebels’ lead to two.
On the following possession Devocio Butler stole the ball and went the other way where he threw down an emphatic jam that tied up the contest and got the 2,464 fans at Moby Arena out of their seats. Che Bob capped off the 10-0 run with a trey that sent the Rams into the locker room ahead 46-43.
The run certainly saw a much-needed offensive explosion from CSU. But, as coach Larry Eustachy pointed out afterward, defense and a slight adjustment in how the Rams guarded screens was the driving force in triggering the run.
“I thought our intensity defensively picked up. The game plan was to go under screens on some of these guys,” Eustachy said. “If you notice we quickly changed it and started getting over and started pinning them to the sidelines and forcing them baseline. I think that changed the game, it made us not be as passive. Early, we contested shots. They made tough shots. I thought when we adjusted to going over screens and not under, it picked up the intensity.”
Before the run, UNLV led by as much as nine with 5:04 to play in the first half.
CSU carried that momentum into the second stanza, primarily on the back of Clavell in the early going. The Rams’ senior — who scored only four points in last Thursday’s loss to Long Beach State — was on-fire, burying three 3-pointers in the first 2:34 of the second half to push CSU’s lead to 57-46.
For Clavell, who was playing in his fifth game after serving a nine-game suspension, getting back into the groove was primarily a result of not forcing things and simply letting the game come to him. He said that the last few games he may have been pressing the issue and trying to do too much.
“I just played within the game,” Clavell said. “I wasn’t trying to force anything. I wasn’t trying to do this or that… I let them get me the ball whenever they want to or whenever they can and I go to work.”
From there, CSU never looked back. The Rams pushed their lead to as much as 18 while never allowing UNLV to get within single digits during the second. CSU’s 91 points was the second most points they’ve totaled this season. As a team, CSU shot 48.5 percent from the floor.
Clavell notched a double-double, leading all scorers with 21 points to go along with 11 rebounds. Omogbo recorded his sixth double-double of the year, finishing 15 points and 13 rebounds. CSU is now 5-1 in games where Omogbo gets a double-double.
Prentiss Nixon had 15 points and Bob added 14 of his own as four Rams reached double-figures and every player who saw action scored.
Everybody got in the mix offensively and CSU was making highlight-reel plays, including a handful of aggressive dunks. Omogbo volleyball swatted a Rebel shot attempt into the crowd late in the second half. After three straight losses, Wednesday night’s win was a lot of fun for the Rams.
“We haven’t had that the last three games. Today we were just out there having fun just like we was all season,” Omogbo said. “Everybody’s happy in the locker room, nobody came with a sad face. Everyone who played scored. Everybody’s happy and we got the win.”
CSU will have their first road test of conference play when they travel to play Boise State on Saturday at 4 p.m. MT.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michael_roley