LAS VEGAS — After overcoming 13 point deficits in each of the previous two matchups and sweeping the season series for the first time since 2003, the Colorado State men’s basketball team was able to once again dig itself out of a 13-point hole to beat San Diego State University 71-63, and will advance to face Nevada in the Mountain West Tournament Championship Saturday afternoon.
“Anytime we’re down by any margin we feel like we can come back and win,” Mountain West Player of the Year Gian Clavell said after the victory. “We always say stay with it, chip away and just one basket at a time.”
It was not not a pretty start for the Rams offensively, as CSU opened the first half with eight turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game.
“Give San Diego State all the credit in the world,” head coach Larry Eustachy said. “They came out and forced us to turn it over… They had the majority of their points in the first half off of our turnovers.”
From that point on however, CSU only turned the ball over five more times and would ultimately force 11 turnovers of their own; a large part of that was due to the senior duo of Emmanuel Omogbo and Gian Clavell, who combined for nine steals on the night.
“It came down to heart,” Prentiss Nixon said. “In the backcourt we have some of the most heart.”
Clavell led all scorers in the game with 19 points, while also recording a career-best six steals, but unlike the victory over Air Force Thursday night, the Rams beat the Aztecs with a complete team performance.
Four of the Rams starters finished with double-digit scoring totals Friday night. Nixon scored 16 points, J.D. Paige finished with 11 points and was perfect from beyond the arc (3-3), while CSU’s other First-Team All-Mountain West honoree, Emmanuel Omogbo, pulled down his school-record 19th double-double of the season with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“I just really wanted to come out here and play my hardest,” Omogbo said. “Coach (Eustachy) reminded me that I only had two rebounds at halftime, so I just wanted to come out and play my heart out and rebound.”
The win over the Aztecs is No. 512 of Larry Eustachy’s career, tying him with Don Devoe for 57th best all-time and also gives the Rams a one game advantage in the series overall (41-40).
After beating the Aztecs for a third time this season, Eustachy’s Rams will face Nevada in the MW Championship game tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. on CBS.
“Both teams are tired, I’m sure,” Eustachy said. “They (Nevada) played two really hard games. But it is a quick turnaround.”
This is the eighth time that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will meet in the Mountain West Championship. The No. 2 seed is 7-0 in those games. Additionally, this will be the second time in seven days that Colorado State and Nevada will face off. The Wolf Pack won the lone regular season meeting 85-72.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael.