With a chance to win a conference regular season title for the first time since 1990, the Colorado State men’s basketball team lost at Nevada 85-72 as the Wolfpack clinched their first ever Mountain West regular season title.
It was a tale of two halves for the Rams, but in the opposite form they are used to. A team that has started slow and finished strong over the last few weeks, the Rams got out to an early lead that they would hold into the beginning of the second half.
Gian Clavell found his groove early and often, en route to a game-high 33 points. He made 6-of-11 from 3-point range and pulled down nine rebounds in 40 minutes of action. After scoring eight straight points to put his team up by 10 with under five minutes remaining in the first half, Clavell and the Rams seemed poised to run away with the victory.
Enter Cam Oliver.
The Nevada big man certainly made his case for MW Player of the Year as he finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds. Not only did he give the Rams fits from under the basket, he also made them pay from behind the 3-point line, converting on four from deep. Possibly the most important points of the evening, and certainly the flashiest, came from Oliver’s breakaway windmill dunk that gave the Wolfpack a double-digit lead and put a spark in an already rowdy Lawlor Events Center. This was part of a 15-2 run that put the Rams away for good.
“They have an incredible crowd,” head coach Larry Eustachy said in a statement. “They’re really good players, that’s why they just won the league.”
Emmanuel Omogbo, the conference’s leading rebounder, found himself in foul trouble early and was neutralized by Oliver for the remainder of the game. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds. Prentiss Nixon was the only other Ram to reach double-digits with 12 points, 10 of which came in the opening 13 minutes of play.
Marcus Marshall, another leading candidate for MW POY, notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 assists. Teammate Jordan Caroline did so as well, recording 18 points and 15 rebounds.
The loss snaps Colorado State’s seven-game winning streak that has featured its fair share of remarkable moments. Despite the loss, Eustachy praised his team for their efforts in what was a turbulent regular season.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Eustachy said. “I don’t know if I have ever gotten a team this far along with so much adversity. One poll had us picked last and we got it down to one game. I’ve never been prouder of a group of guys.”
The Rams will now turn their attention to the Mountain West Tournament, which they have secured the No. 2 seed in. After a first round bye, the Rams will play the winner of Air Force (10 seed) and Wyoming (7 seed). The Rams are a combined 3-0 against the two teams this season.
“We have no margin for error,” Eustachy said. “We’re gonna have to play right to get through our first game. But I know that when we do execute, we’re tough to beat.”
The Rams’ first game of the tournament will be played on Thursday March 9 at 7 p.m. MT.
Collegian sports reporter Colin Barnard can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ColinBarnard_