The renovation of CSU men’s basketball reaches three-straight wins

Luke Zahlmann

Newly-minted Colorado State men’s basketball Coach Niko Medved is a rebuilder.

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Whether it was his turnaround of Furman University from 9-21 to 23-12 in his four seasons at the helm or Drake University from 7-24 to 17-17 in his lone season, Medved has turned programs around.

Now, back in Fort Collins where he spent the early years of his coaching career under Larry Eustachy, Medved is leading another rejuvenation, present once again in the Rams’ latest win Wednesday night over Montana State University, 81-77.

With his wife and 2-year-old daughter in the stands and in the proceeding press conference room, Medved is working on what he called his “dream job” in his introductory press conference.

That dream job has been nary a nightmare thus far as the Rams are 3-0, winning the trio by an average of 21 points. But the matchup against the visiting Cougars was the first time the Rams have been contested this year.

“(The win) doesn’t feel ugly to me. I think this is how you grow, this is how you get better and we had to fight tonight through a little bit of adversity… I’m pleased about this one.”Niko Medved

Whether it was freshmen Adam Thistlewood and Kendle Moore playing pivotal roles, or a pair of routs, Medved’s fingerprint has been present. Without their impact, the Rams were forced to scrap. The two combined for a mere 16 points in the teams’ latest contest.

The Rams were finally tested. Multiple possessions running the shot clock down to five seconds or less, balls rimming out on open looks, the Rams finally faced the adversity they’d evaded.

“We’re a young team in a way,” redshirt junior Nico Carvacho said. “Me, (J.D. Paige) and (Anthony Maniston-Bonner) has to step up, we’re the veterans of the team. That’s what I felt like we did.”

Player shoots a layup
J.D. Paige (22) smiles as he jumps up for a layup as CSU takes on MSU at home. CSU wins 81-77. (Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

Adding on to the roadblocks was the Rams’ lack of efficiency from outside for the first time in three games. After making over half of their attempts from outside in each of their previous contests, the Rams fell to a 20-percent mark against the Cougars.

Of those 3-point attempts, the Rams shot 4-17 in the first half alone.

The blemishes in the first half led to the slimmest margin the Rams have entered the intermission with this year, 34-32. There was a strong message at the half.

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“(At halftime) I told them, ‘This is great for us, this is a great test,’” Medved said. “I think that was the message. Everybody in that locker room knew we didn’t play great but you gotta give the other team credit for that too and that’s basketball.”

The play that ignited the Rams came from the aforementioned Thistlewood. Carvhaco made the steal, Thistlewood scooped it up, drove on the fast break, and finished with a euro step and left-handed layup off the glass.

Not to be outdone, the Rams’ next points came courtesy of a pair of Moore free throws. After an opening half of only seven combined points, the youngsters led the turnaround.

The lone piece of adversity left proved to be the catalyst for the close margin, Bobcats’ senior Tyler Hall. The forward gave the Rams flashbacks of Martaveous McKnight (41 points) of the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff as he tallied 30, with 20 coming in the second half. 

Following a timeout to cool the fourth-year wing, the Rams began to attack. Instead of settling for outside looks, redshirt senior J.D. Paige led the charge to the hoop, much to the delight of the raucous Moby Arena faithful.

“We’re all shooters, we like to play in transition a lot,” Paige said. “I just (saw) the lane a lot so I took advantage of it.” 

Paige, come the final buzzer had tied his career-high scoring output with 23. 

Then Bonner, returning from an injury scare after halftime finally made his presence felt. After a layup from Paige, the guard lifted for an open attempt from outside with just over a minute left, nothing but net. The once solemn crowd of 2243 went delirious while Maniston-Bonner hobbled back down the court to defend. 

Player yells
J.D Paige yells after scoring as the Rams battle the Bobcats. CSU won 81-77(Devin Cornelius | Collegian)

“Before that (shot), he came up to me and said, ‘Next open three, I’m knocking it down,’” Carvacho said. “That’s what he did.”

After making just five of their previous 29 3-point attempts, Bonner made the final one count, sealing the win for the hosts.

“(The win) doesn’t feel ugly to me,” Medved said. “I think this is how you grow, this is how you get better and we had to fight tonight through a little bit of adversity… I’m pleased about this one.”

Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.