Colorado State opened the Jamaica Classic on a positive note, defeating Winthrop 80-76 in front of 2,697 fans at Moby Arena in a come-from-behind victory.
Five different Rams finished in double figures as CSU moved to 2-0 this season. Nixon led the way with 16 points. J.D. Paige added 10 points, and three other Rams who scored in double digits each had career nights.
“I thought it was just a great team effort out of everybody,” head coach Larry Eustachy said.
Nico Carvacho, who was the only CSU player in rhythm for the entire 40 minutes, earned his third career double-double. Carvacho scored 11 points and collected a career-high 20 rebounds in the victory.
“I think out of all the great performances, 20 rebounds jumps out the most,” Eustachy said. “Amazing, nine were offensive. And I think the bigger stat is that I don’t think he (Carvacho) is done growing. He’s young and he’s able to play 36 minutes at a high level.”
Deion James and Raquan Mitchell, two junior college transfers, each stepped up in crunch time and helped contribute to the victory. James scored 14 points and went 7-of-11 from the floor. Mitchell added 11 points and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor. Seven of Mitchell’s points also came in the final 6:18 of the game. That included a key dunk with 1:14 remaining to give the Rams a 79-73 lead.
CSU shot 51.5 percent from the field in the second half and finished the game by making four of their final six attempts from beyond the arc. The offense clicked when it needed to, but that wasn’t the case for the whole game.
“My job as the point guard is to get everyone involved and I think in the first half I did a poor job of doing that,” Nixon said.
Though Winthrop lost a number of key players from last season’s 26-win, NCAA Tournament run, they certainly played like last year’s squad in the first half tonight.
The Eagles out-hustled the Rams in the first half. CSU failed to find any offensive rhythm in the early going as well. Prentiss Nixon and J.D. Paige went only 3-of-11 combined from the field in the first half. Though the Rams trailed 39-32 at the break, it could have been a double-digit deficit without Nico Carvacho’s contributions. Carvacho scored six points and collected nine rebounds on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
“The word selfish wasn’t a good description of our offense in the first half,” Eustachy said. “I thought we were lazy.”
Winthrop carried its first half momentum into the second half, and built a 14-point lead with 15:06 remaining in the game. But, just as they needed to, CSU responded to the growing deficit with a run of their own. The Rams used a key 16-5 run over 4:48 to cut the game to 55-52 with 10:18 remaining, and finally get back within breathing room. It seemed the sense of urgency developed by the Rams helped them finally find some momentum.
“I think no matter what team you are in the country, no matter who you are, when you go down 14 everyone has a sense of urgency,” Nixon said. “We had to get gritty and get stops on defense. The stops led to scores.”
From there, the Rams that took the floor for the first 25 minutes were a thing of the past.
Anders Broman, who led Winthrop with 22 points on 5-of-10 shooting from three, knocked down a three with 60 seconds remaining to cut CSU’s six-point lead in half.
Carvacho turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, but Winthrop’s Xavier Cooks missed the front end of a one-and-one to put the game on ice for the Rams with 17 seconds remaining.
Another key to the victory was keeping Winthrop’s leading scorer, Cooks, in check for the most part. Cooks scored 14 points and collected eight rebounds in the Eagles’ season-opener against Southern Illinois. Cooks also averaged 16.5 points per game last season and is Winthrop’s leading returning scorer from last season.
Cooks once again found success on the glass against CSU, as he collected nine rebounds tonight. However, after scoring nine points in the first half, the Rams held Cooks to only two points in the second half on 1-of-7 shooting from the floor.
“J.D. (Paige) took Cooks and we really stifled Cooks,” Eustachy said. “J.D. really shut him down at the end.”
The Rams will head to Jamaica around 2 a.m. MT Wednesday morning for their second game in the Jamaica Classic. CSU plays Tulane, a six-win team last season, on Friday at 12 p.m. MT. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network.
“Playing a game in Jamaica, you know, it’s Jamaica,” Nixon said. “Everyone looks at it like it’s Jamaica. But, we have to look at it like it’s a business trip. You’re going to see who is mature when we play Tulane.”
Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.