After losing four of the last five games, Colorado State men’s basketball got back on track with a crucial 72-63 victory over its in-state rival, the University of Colorado, Saturday morning in Moby Arena.
Led by the junior guards Prentiss Nixon and J.D. Paige, the Rams came out of the gate with hot hands. Nixon (11) and Paige (9) combined for 20 first half points and accounted for four of the team’s five 3-point shots.
“This game was big for us. Not just for me but for my teammates,” Paige said. “We had just come off of a loss and we were trying to get right back on track. We did that today.”
“Really proud of our guys, really happy for our guys,” Head coach Larry Eustachy added. “I understand how important these games are to our fans and to guys like J.D.”
Along with a strong shooting performance early, CSU dominated the glass. The Rams out-rebounded the Buffaloes 21-13, including a 7-2 advantage in offensive rebounds in the first half.
Forwards Nico Carvacho and Lorenzo Jenkins were a large reason why the Rams owned the paint Saturday morning. Jenkins totalled five rebounds in the first half alone and finished the contest with six. Carvacho was a force defensively and finished with nine rebounds and a career-best four blocks.
Coming out of the break, the Rams went for the kill by aggressively attacking the rim early and often on offense. CSU finished with 24 points in the paint and did so by playing extremely physical.
Defensively, CSU was dominant and stifled the Colorado offense throughout the contest. The Rams had nine blocks Saturday and consistently forced the Buffaloes out of their rhythm offensively.
CU responded by settling for outside jump shots and when the Buffs missed, the CSU big men were there to secure the rebound. In total, CSU out-rebounded CU by 14 (46-32) and six different players finished with at least five rebounds.
Head coach Larry Eustachy spoke of the importance of this factor, explaining that the goal always has to be playing strong defense and winning the battle on the glass.
The difference today was the Rams were more selective with their shots as well.
Nixon and Paige led CSU in scoring, finishing with 16 points each. CSU shot 41 percent from the floor and made 7-of-18 3-point attempts Saturday. After struggling offensively in the previous couple of games, being able to hit both open and contested jump shots was paramount.
“I think we had better shot selection (today), but for the most part I feel like we get pretty good shot selection, we just don’t make them,” Nixon said. “Today they fell early and often.”
True freshman guard McKinley Wright led the Buffs in scoring. The Minnesota native finished with 19 points, including an 11-0 run by himself in the second half.
“Wright’s a great player,” Nixon said. “Our goal was to contain him. I think for the first 25 minutes or so, we did that. He kind of got loose towards the middle of the second half but in the we managed to keep him contained.”
The victory over Colorado comes at a crucial moment for a CSU hoops program that has struggled lately and will face an even more difficult schedule moving forward. The Rams will play at Arkansas this Tuesday (Dec. 5), before traveling to Oregon on Friday, Dec. 8.
Collegian sports director Justin Michael can be reached at email@example.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.