CSU hangs tough with league-leading Nevada despite Eustachy’s absence

Austin White

Colorado State had every reason to be blown out home. Facing the top team in the conference in the Nevada Wolfpack without their head coach Larry Eustachy seemed like a mixture for disaster.

Add in the fact that juniors Prentis Nixon and J.D. Paige both expected to be out for the matchup and the hopes for a CSU win against a previously ranked opponent looked bleak.

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Nixon puts hands over head
Prentiss Nixon (11) grabs his head in frustration after the Rams suffered a sixth consecutive loss to Nevada 76-67. This was Nixon’s first game back since his ankle injury against Air Force on January 17th. Nixon struggled in only 18 minutes of action shooting 1-for-7 for only 4 points. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Still, the Rams stuck together and kept the reigning Mountain West champions, the Nevada Wolfpack, on their heels for most of the game in their 72-67 loss in Moby Arena Saturday night. The loss marks the sixth straight for the Rams (10-15, 3-9 MW) who remain winless at home in conference. 

“I was really, really proud of these guys,” associate head coach Steve Barnes said. “There was no jumping ship, everybody was on the same page. But at the same time, I sound like I’m giving a lot of credit, nobody is happy about how we still can’t get that middle of the road stuff done in the second half.”

Early on, the guards of CSU took control with redshirt sophomore Raquan Mitchell nailing multiple fade-away shots to give him nine quick points. Fellow redshirt sophomore Anthony Bonner found his way to the basket as well, putting up five points in the first half.

To the surprise of many, junior Prentiss Nixon came into the game at the 12:30 mark for Bonner despite the expectation being he would not return from a high ankle sprain until next week. And being the veteran leader that he has become, Nixon helped the Rams get through a tough offensive possession by draining a 3-pointer as the shot clock buzzer went off for his first points in the game.

“It was good seeing him out there, especially when he hit his first 3,” Deion James said on Nixon’s return. “We could tell he’s moving, still trying to get into the rhythm and some of his shots were a little bit shorter but once he gets back in the rhythm I think it’s going to help us a lot.”

Nixon also displayed his disagreement with the decision from CSU to put Eustachy on leave with a tweet asking for them to stop taking away from the game. He deleted the tweet soon after and also wrote “#LarryE” on his shoes for the game.

Miscommunication still set the tone for the Rams’ offense in the first half as they put up eight turnovers, including a couple errant passes that caused over-and-back penalties. Often the Rams waited too long to put up a shot on offense as well with one shot clock violation coming as well. They finished with 12 turnovers in the game.

In the absence of a shooting presence, the Wolfpack (20-4, 9-1 MW) went inside or drew fouls from the 3-point line as they went 15-for-15 from the free throw line. Nevada finished shooting 81.3 percent from the line, but only 36.2 percent from the field.

“Most of the time when people get in foul trouble they don’t want to get in more foul trouble so I felt like we were a little bit too passive on defense and not aggressive enough,” James said.

the coach gestures form the sideline.
Associate head coach Steve Barnes yells from the sidelines during the Nevada game. Barnes is stepping in while CSU investigates head coach, Larry Eustachy. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

The offense that Mitchell showed off in the first vanished as he had only two second-half points. James would pick up where Mitchell left off, though, as he made a couple 3-pointers before foul trouble started to plague the Rams.

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The repeated attacks on the interior by the Wolfpack put the Rams big men in foul trouble, forcing the Rams to ease up on defense in the second half.

Between James’ stints on the bench due to foul trouble, he kept the Rams offense in it by putting up 10 of his 12 total points in the second half. Che Bob and Bonner did one better with 13 a piece to pace the Rams.

As players of the year often do, Caleb Martin of Nevada took control for the Wolfpack, especially in the second half where he had 16 of his game-high 26 points. Deep balls were not working for him so he drove it inside and attempted 14 free throws in the game, making 11 of them.

When the game came down to the final minutes, the Wolfpack put the ball in Martin’s hands and he delivered by draining a 3-pointer in the face of Bob to give the Wolfpack a seven-point lead with only 1:54 left to go.

“Caleb Martin, I mean an MVP guy of the league, pro guy,” Barnes said. “I don’t know if we could guard it any better.”

Following the game, Barnes denied questions regarding the assessment of Eustachy and kept his focus on the game. James also remained silent on the notion, but believed his team responded well despite finding out the news only hours before tipoff.

“We just try to come in every game with the same mental preparation, just try to focus on the game and stick to the game plan,” James said. “(The news about Eustachy) shocked us, but at the same time we had to focus on the game because the game was present this day.”

The other big question is whether or not Nixon will receive more playing time after being on the court for 18 minutes and going 1-for-7 from the floor for only four points.

“There is your $100 question, I have no idea,” Barnes said on Nixon playing at Air Force. “I did ask the trainer, I did ask Mike (Schivone) and he said, ‘No, we’re good.’ But I’ve been worried about it, still worried about it.”

The next opponent will be on the road against the Air Force Falcons who came into Moby Arena last month and got a victory over the Rams for the first time since 2011. The game is set to tip at 8 p.m. this Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Collegian sports reporter Austin White can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ajwrules44