LAS VEGAS — Led by a dominant performance from Mountain West Player of the Year Gian Clavell, the No. 2 Colorado State men’s basketball team handily defeated No. 10 Air Force 81-55 in the MW Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night and will advance to play the winner of Boise State vs. San Diego State on Friday night.
“Well, I was really proud of our guys,” head coach Larry Eustachy said following the victory. “We got here and we were a little loose and yesterday we really got focused I thought. And they were really listening to what I had to say, understanding what Air Force had done to Wyoming,” Eustachy said, referring to the Falcons 15 point blowout of the Cowboys.
After scoring 28 points and hitting five 3-pointers against the Falcons in the Jan. 7 matchup, Clavell came out red-hot in this contest as well, scoring 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Clavell was able to get open looks throughout the contest, and as Mountain West opponents have discovered all season, that is not a recipe for success.
“I just — I’m just playing my game,” Clavell said. “I’m a very confident player so I just — if I like it, I shoot it. He always says that. If you’re open, you like it, shoot it. They are a very defensive team, too. It’s always hard to play against them.”
The fifth-year guard did the majority of his damage from 3-point range, hitting 6-of-11 attempts for 18 of his 30 points, but his impact on the game stretched beyond 3-point shooting. Clavell collected seven rebounds, recorded two assists and did not turn the ball over in 29 minutes of action.
“When he’s hot, get him the ball,” sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon said of his teammate’s performance. “That’s what I’ve learned since I’ve been here. That’s my job being a point guard. If someone is hot, get him the ball in the right spots. Gian (Clavell) knocked them down.”
Nixon struggled somewhat offensively on the night, going 4-of-15 from the field, but the second-year starter still managed to record 15 points, six rebounds and three assists.
Where Nixon’s impact was truly felt was on the defensive end, where he was able to lock down the Falcons’ leading scorer Hayden Graham in the second half. Nixon held Graham to just two points in the final 20 minutes. Graham had started the game 4-4 from the field and scored 13 points in the first half.
“Everybody knows what is expected of them,” Eustachy said, speaking about Nixon and J.D. Paige. “And we like to steal something from the Patriots — just do your job. I don’t know if there’s a better tandem of two defenders of sophomores in the country.”
With the win over the Falcons, CSU is now 10-0 against their in-state rival under head coach Larry Eustachy and have won 11 of their last 13 games overall.
“I don’t think the record indicates just how good Air Force has been in those 10 games,” Eustachy said. “And we’ve been fortunate enough to win. But there were a couple of games where we basically had lost and it took some special situations to come back and win those. 10-0 is not indicative of how tough this series has been.”
The Rams will face the winner of No. 3 Boise State vs No. 6 San Diego State tomorrow night. Tipoff is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. and the game will air on CBS Sports Network.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.