CSU men’s basketball faces must-win season finale at Utah State

Emmett McCarthy

With the final game regular season game looming, the Colorado State men’s basketball team’s historic season hangs in the balance. If the Rams (25-5, 12-5 MW) lose at Utah State, they can kiss any chance of an at-large tournament bid goodbye. The program-best 25 regular season wins and top-3 finish in the Mountain West could be all for naught.

USU (18-11, 11-6 MW) is still reeling from a 76-53 blowout loss at Wyoming. Prior to that, the Aggies had rattled off six straight MW wins. In addition to defeating the likes of UNLV, Fresno State and New Mexico during that stretch, the Ags also hold quality wins over Wyoming and at Boise State.

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The Aggies have defied preseason expectations, and currently sit at fourth in the standings (11-6 in conference play). Head coach Stew Morrill has already announced that this will be his final season, which means that this is his final home game. Morrill was the head coach at CSU from 1991-1998 and would surely like to go out with a win against his former team.

Here are some of the keys to victory for CSU if they plan to take down the Aggies on their home court.

Getting stops

CSU forward J.J. Avila referred to getting defensive stops as the biggest key in any game, since he trusts that his team’s offense will always be there. Getting stops in Logan, Utah won’t be easy, however.

The Aggies score at a high volume, averaging 81 points in their last three home games. Freshman forward David Collette is averaging 13 points per game on 59 percent shooting and should draw the attention of CSU’s bigs.

If the Rams choose to double Collette, he can kick it out to a reliable group of shooters. USU is shooting a conference best 40 percent from 3-point range as a team. Add in 6-foot-8 guard Jalen Moore, USU’s leading scorer, and it poses a tricky matchup for the Rams.

Make shots

Sounds obvious enough, right? Teams tend to shoot worse on the road, and the Rams are no exception. CSU shoots 36 percent from downtown overall, but that clip drops to just 24 percent in road losses.

CSU has to avoid being lulled into hoisting quick threes. For whatever reason, teams have trouble hitting outside shots against USU. Opponents are shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range against them.

But the Rams don’t need to shoot the lights out to win. They just need to hit open shots, since the Aggies will likely make most of theirs. CSU makes 7.4 threes per game. If the team can reach that mark efficiently, it should be in good shape.

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Experience matters

The Aggies will only have one player to honor on Senior Night in Sean Harris, and he averages just two points per game. They are a talented squad, but are also relatively young.

CSU is the complete opposite with three seniors scoring in double figures. The Rams starting lineup in filled out by two juniors in Joe De Ciman, who Eustachy referred to as the team’s “glue guy,” and Tiel Daniels, who has been a vocal leader in the locker room.

The Rams have a seasoned group of players who have shown they can handle the pressure of a hostile crowd. USU will be relying on a younger group to give their coach and senior a proper send off, and it could easily get to them.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.