In front of a modest Moby Arena crowd, Colorado State men’s basketball (6-6) handed one of the top Division II programs in the nation its first defeat of the season, as the Rams topped Arkansas-Fort Smith (12-0) 87-73 Tuesday night. Although the loss was technically the Lions’ first of the season, the game will not count against their overall record because it is considered an exhibition contest for the No. 5 Division II program.
“All and all, we beat a good team tonight,” Associate head coach Steve Barnes said. Barnes explained that while most Division II programs would be considered easy wins, that was certainly not the case Tuesday night. The Lions roster is filled with a variety of Division 1 transfers and experienced hoopers, so it was a program that CSU could not afford to take lightly.
CSU came out of the gate and executed at a high level offensively. The Rams efficiently moved the basketball around the perimeter, made 16-of-38 field goal attempts (42 percent) and turned the ball over three times in the first half.
Junior forward Deion James played a large role in CSU’s offensive success. The six-foot-eight forward made five-of-seven field goal attempts and totalled 11 points and three rebounds in the first 20 minutes of play alone. James finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, leading the Rams in both figures.
“We started to play well defensively and it converted to offense. I have to thank a lot of my teammates for that,” James said. “They created offense for me and it helped me get in a groove.”
Along with the strong offensive play from James, guards Anthony Bonner (12), Prentiss Nixon (17) and J.D. Paige (14) also finished with double-digit scoring totals.
Nixon made 6-of-14 field goal attempts, scoring 17 points and dishing out three assists. Paige scored 14 points, had four assists and brought down four rebounds.
“Tonight we were very balanced,” Nixon said. “I think going forward, we are going to need to have balanced scoring all around.”
On the season, Nixon has now scored at least ten points in ten of the 11 nonconference games that he has played in. Nixon missed the Northwestern State game on Nov. 24 with a concussion.
“Prentiss (Nixon) is really maturing,” Barnes said. “We’ve really been pleased with how he’s stepped up his leadership and how he is being vocal. Not only saying the right things but doing the right things. So he has really emerged as our vocal and playing leader out there.”
Defensively, the Rams were able to force the Lions out of rhythm. CSU forced 17 turnovers, which resulted in 19 points for the green and gold.
Senior guard Darrion Strong-Moore carried the Lions offensively. The Oklahoma-transfer finished the night with 15 points and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor. (5-of-12). Ladarius Coleman also had a nice outing with ten points and three rebounds.
Following the victory over the Lions, CSU now turns its attention to Long Beach State, who the Rams host on Saturday, Dec. 23. The Rams have lost to the 49ers in each of the previous two seasons, including a 56-55 defeat on the road last December.
“My freshman year they came in here and put on a show, and last year we went there and they put on a show again,” Nixon said. “So it’s a big a game. We circled it.”
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael.