Rams Nation turns its eyes to Prentiss Nixon for MW Tournament

Austin White

Come March, every college basketball team needs a leader. Time and time again, the country has seen how one player can take over a team and lead them to something great in March.

In a year full of head coaching changes, Colorado State struggled with this idea of leadership, whether on the bench or having to deal with injuries on the court. Not one guy seemed to be leading the pack for the Rams.

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Nixon hurt
Prentiss Nixon (11) is helped off the court after an apparent ankle injury late in the second half of the Rams’ 76-71 loss to Air Force. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

But over the past two games, junior Prentiss Nixon’s return to form gives reason to believe that the Rams have found their leader.

“Yeah, for the most part,” Nixon said on being past his injuries. “At this point, I think I am closer to 100 percent than I was last week or two weeks ago. I feel good out there, I’m moving better, it looks like I’m moving better, I watched the film.”

After suffering an ankle injury against Air Force back on Jan. 17, the Rams’ leader missed four games and watched as his team lost seven straight games following the loss to the cadets. Overall, the Rams lost 11 of their final 12 contests and look to be limping into the postseason.

Nixon finally returned against Nevada on Feb. 3 by coming off the bench, but only put up four points and shot 1-for-7 from the field and made 1-of-4 free throw attempts. That same less-than-100-percent Nixon continued in the next four games where the Rams’ only win came against the conference winless San Jose State Spartans.

The step back 3-pointers and drives to the basket did not fall for Nixon, forcing the offense to be spread around and sometimes become flat. He continued to walk around school in a boot and stated himself that he did not quite feel all there.

But with the Mountain West Tournament beginning Wednesday, the Chicago native finally looks like he is coming back into the form that CSU will need him to be in.

Nixon put up 27 points in the final two games of the season against Nevada and New Mexico, two of the top defending teams in the conference. Those points are what helped CSU stay in contention with teams who were heavily favored, including a second-half lead against then No. 20 Nevada. The margin came at the 12:41 mark after a made 3-pointer by Nixon.

“It feels like back to before I got hurt,” Nixon said on the team’s energy going into the tournament. “I started slow, everyone started slow at the beginning of that game (against New Mexico). In the second half, we picked up. If we can play like that in the second half for the whole 40 minutes, I think we should be fine in the tournament.”

“It feels like back to before I got hurt. I started slow, everyone started slow at the beginning of that game (against New Mexico). In the second half, we picked up. If we can play like that in the second half for the whole 40 minutes, I think we should be fine in the tournament.”

Prentiss Nixon, junior guard

Everyone in the Mountain West is well aware of the fire hazard that Nixon can become as he has proven dangerous throughout an injury-plagued season. His 17.9 points per game ranked sixth before his ankle injury and he still averages 16.2, placing ninth in the conference.

But as Rams fans saw last year, a deep tournament run required the likes of Gian Clavell to help score in every fashion. Nixon will have to do the same for the Rams if their defense continues to slip.

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New Mexico came into Moby Arena and put up 108 points on the Rams in the final game of the regular season. Before that, Nevada put up 92 points and Boise State piled on 87. The first halves of games have been especially ugly on defense, but the Rams continue to respond with strong second halves.

“We tend to come out slow at home and just think things will work out like that,” Nixon said. “I’ll take responsibility on that one and try to change it a little bit.”

With a lack of defense present this late in the year, it seems like the Rams will have to outscore their opponents, and Nixon is capable of leading the charge.

Not only is the offense from Nixon prolific, but his presence on the defensive end will be needed. It seems as if every charge called on opponents comes from Nixon sacrificing his body for it. He averages almost one charge taken a game, something he believes comes from his ability to read the body language of the opponent and get in their path.

a player jumps up for a layup
Prentiss Nixon drives in for a layup over a University of New Mexico player during the last home game of the season on Feb. 28. The Rams fell to the Lobos 108-87. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Nixon certainly will have to take charge in both meanings of the phrase with the bright lights of Vegas turning to shine on him. The experience from the run last year when the Rams made it to the championship game should certainly help. CSU played three consecutive games in as many days last season, giving Nixon plenty of minutes thanks to the depleted roster.

“I feel like we know what it takes to get there, it’s going to be a grind,” Nixon said. “Everyone was tired (last season), but we still fought through it and we were in the game until the end.”

In the championship game, Nixon had one of his best games in his short career. The guard put up 23 points and led the way for CSU when Clavell was simply too tired to do so.

CSU could have potentially caught a break in the first round as their opponent will be Utah State. The Aggies come in after losing to SJSU, the Spartans’ only win in the conference.

One of the Rams’ four conference wins also came against the Aggies in their only matchup of the season. In that game, Nixon put up 26 points and he will look to do the same when the game gets underway at 2:30 p.m. MT.

“Everyone is going to count us out, no one has us winning any games,” Nixon said. “We don’t worry what everyone else has to say, we worry about the people in the locker room…When we bring it and we’re ready to play, we are pretty damn good.”

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