Nevada wins Mountain West title despite Nixon’s 27 points

Austin White

Wins are usually easy measurements. Who has the most points when the clock hits zero determines the winner and nothing else.

But victories can occur even when a team does not boast the most points. That was the case for Colorado State against the No. 20 Nevada Wolfpack Sunday afternoon in the Rams’ 92-83 loss.

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A player jumps up, putting his hand in front of his opponent's shot
Nico Carvacho attempts to block a shot from a Nevada player on Feb. 3. The Rams lost 76-67. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

CSU entered the game off an absolute embarrassment at home when they lost to the Boise State Broncos 87-54 and gave up a 20-0 run at one point. Before that, they lost by over 20 points on the road to Fresno State and looked like a team out of sorts and out of heart.

Last time against Nevada, the Rams discovered that morning that Steve Barnes would take over as interim head coach as CSU placed Larry Eustachy on administrative lead. This time, interim coach Jase Herl has been leading the team for three games and established some consistency on the sideline. 

In the first half, CSU began firing from deep by attempting 13 3-pointers and nailing six of them with quite of few coming from deep behind the line. Anthony Bonner went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc and entered halftime as the Rams’ points leader with 9.

What hurt the Rams the most was the absence of junior guard J.D. Paige who was suspended for violating team rules. Often the Ram coughed the ball up and gave Nevada easy transition points. In total, the Rams had 12 turnovers in the first half giving the Wolfpack seven fast break points and a 40-38 lead.

As he did a couple weeks ago in Fort Collins, potential Mountain West Player of the Year Caleb Martin took over and raked in the scoring for Nevada. He had 11 first-half points, highlighted by a couple deep 3-pointers that the Rams had no defense for.

Still, the Rams hung around with a top-20 team and continued to compete throughout the second half, this time led by junior Prentiss Nixon and redshirt sophomore Nico Carvacho. The two led the Rams in scoring down the stretch while Carvacho posted another heavy line, this one reading 13 points, 14 boards and seven assists.

The best part of the game for the Rams though was the revival of Nixon who came out firing in the second half, getting 19 points and going 5-for-11 from deep en route to a game-high 27 points. He passed the 1,000 career points mark and looked to finally be fully healthy from his previous injuries this season.

However, defense still escaped the Rams who allowed 52 points in the second half, including 14 more to Martin who finished with 25. His brother, Cody Martin, also dominated the Rams in every aspect as he came a rebound away from a triple-double with 17 points, nine boards and 11 assists.

The rebound advantage disappeared for the Rams as they only outrebounded the Wolfpack by one and Nevada outscored CSU in the paint to the tune of 40-26. Paint defense has been a problem for the Rams all year, something Carvacho has said needs to be improved from himself and the team as a whole.

CSU cut down on the turnovers in the second half by committing only five and forcing four from the Wolfpack. The Martin twins proved to be too much, even though the Rams put up 83 on a team that usually allows 71.6 a game.

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Despite the loss, the Rams competed with the top team in the conference and potentially built some confidence heading toward their final game of the regular season and ultimately the Mountain West Tournament.

With Nixon showing what he is capable of when healthy and Carvacho leading down low, the Rams will most likely take the loss to Nevada as a confidence booster as they have said over and over that they are focused on the tournament.

The loss locks CSU into the 10 seed for the tournament where they are currently slated to go against the UNLV Rebels. CSU lost at home in their only matchup despite the Rams holding a large lead late. The win for Nevada gives them back-to-back regular season Mountain West titles.

The regular season will conclude for the Rams Wednesday, Feb. 28 when they host the New Mexico Lobos at 7 p.m. CSU was without Nixon and Paige earlier in the year in their first matchup against New Mexico, so a potential return from those two will be an interesting factor to take notice of.

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