Offense clicks in second half for CSU men’s hoops team in CSU-Pueblo exhibition game

Sam Lounsberry

The CSU’s mens’ basketball team’s exhibition against CSU-Pueblo on Saturday won’t impact the Rams’ record when it’s all said and done, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t matter.
After a shaky first half against the ThunderWovles that ended with the Rams up by only four, 39-35, they knew they had to lock in against their Division II opponent in the second half as a matter of pride.

Emmanuel Omogbo talks his CSU debut following exhibition against CSU-Pueblo. Video by Emmett McCarthy.
“Of course we wanted to set the tone (for the season),” junior forward Emmanuel Omogbo said. “They basically punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond in the first half.”
But the Rams found their rhythm after halftime by increasing the pace. They outscored the Wolves 50-34 in the final frame to come away with an 89-65 victory.
“I thought in the end, the athleticism took over the game with them having a little more athleticism in every position on the court,” CSU-Pueblo head coach Ralph Turner said.
Senior guard Gian Clavell led the scoring effort for the Rams, nothcing 21 points for the night, with 18 coming in the first half. In fact, Clavell kept the Rams close after they lost the lead in the first due to a four minute stretch that saw three turnovers and four missed shots.
With 11:02 left in the first, ThunderWolves forward Nelson Kahler scored an easy lay up to tie it up at 13 on a post-up over Omogbo. From there, the Wolves controlled most of the rest of the half, using three Josh Smith 3-pointers to lead by as much as eight, 31-23, with 4:46 to play in the first. But CSU used a 16-4 run to close out the half with the lead.
Rams’ head coach Larry Eustachy used eight players most of the night, starting Omogbo, Clavell, Joe De Ciman and Tiel Daniels with John Gillon at point guard. Fred Richardson III, JD Paige and Antwan Scott also saw significant action. Freshmen Prentiss Nixon, Anthony Bonner, Nico Carvacho and Toby Van Ry got some run down the stretch after CSU had the Wolves in the bag, too.
“We have a lot of depth, as you can see,” Eustachy said.
Only sophomore Kimani Jackson was left out of Saturday’s action, due to an injury.
Gillon struggled shooting the ball, though, especially in the first half. The junior was 0-for-4 from 3-point range at the end of the first, but Clavell’s attack kept the Rams’ backcourt dangerous.
“That’s how it’s going to be, if I’m struggling, my teammates are going to help me,” Clavell said. “If John is struggling, we are all going to help him.”
Finally, with six minutes to go, Gillon found the net from deep and threw up his hands while shaking his head in relief. The guard ended with five points on 1-for-7 shooting, and 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
“We kind of tell him, ‘Just keep shooting, something is going to fall,'” Omogbo said. “He’s one of our best shooters, him Gian and Joe.”
Defensively, Eustachy saw plenty of bright spots in Gillon’s game, though. The guard was tasked with stopping Syrus McDonald most of the game, who was held to just four points on 1-for-7 shooting.
“I’ve never seen him defend like that since I’ve coached him,” Eustachy said of Gillon. “You have to let him play offensively. He’ll get more comfortable. He got some great looks in the first half. He can make half those, and he just didn’t knock them down.”
Overall, the Rams shot 28-for-68, making just five more field goals than the Wolves, who ended 23-for-72 from the field. CSU really got the job done at the free throw line, where it went 23-of-35 compared to just 11-of-19 for the Wolves.
Leading the Rams in trips to the charity stripe was Omogbo, who showed some diversity for a 6-foot-8 power forward. The junior college transfer scored in the low block, and also took it off the dribble from both wings and the top of the key into the lane for buckets and foul calls. He attempted a game-high nine free throws, connecting on five. Omogbo even drained a 3-pointer in the second half after missing one in the first.
“I didn’t get to show that (diversity) when I was at junior college because we had mostly plays for me in the post,” Omogbo said.
He finished the night with 16 points, second to only Clavell’s 21 for the game.
It wasn’t until there was 4:52 remaining that the crowd in Moby Arena got it what it really wanted. Richardson III threw a pass to Joe De Ciman in the lane, who leaped straight to the rim for a jam in the face of a CSU-Pueblo defender, which sent the packed west student section into a frenzy.
De Ciman finished with 11 points, the only other Ram besides Clavell and Omogbo to notch double-figures. Will Newman and Smith each scored 11 to lead the ThunderWolves.
CSU begins its regular season on the road Saturday at Northern Iowa. Tipoff is slated for 10 a.m. MT.
Sam Lounsberry can be reached at and on Twitter @samlounz.