James causes headache for Rams in Border War

Luke Zahlmann

Colorado State’s matchup against the Wyoming Cowboys felt a little like waking up with a bad hangover. Following their close loss to No. 6 Nevada, the Rams also fell prey to the hosting Cowboys, 74-66.

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The first stage of a hangover is waking up, accompanied by a pounding headache. The throbbing head pain from the game’s onset came courtesy of senior Justin James, a familiar foe for the Rams.

“I think we needed to come out with more focus and more determination to get a (win),” Nico Carvacho said.  

Last season, James averaged 20.5 points per game in the team’s pair of meetings.

James, as part of a dominant first half for the Cowboys, accrued 14 of the team’s 37 points, shooting 4-of-6 from the field. His mark played a large role in the team’s 12-of-23 mark in the first 20 minutes.

The worst part of a headache after a night out is the inability to escape it. Whenever the Rams closed their eyes, hoping for the pain to go away, they were pummeled by their opposition.

On back-to-back possessions, already trailing by 10, the Rams allowed Jake Hendricks to hit off-balance 3-pointers at the top of the key off of a screen. Both plays were identical, both dealt further blows to the visitors. The latter came on an inbounds play:

https://twitter.com/wyo_mbb/status/1094317583027732480

The constant strikes in the opening half reached their apex at a 19-point margin with 4:02 left before the relief of intermission. The margin was buoyed by seven consecutive 3-pointers to begin the game for the Cowboys. Amongst their midday haze, the Rams turned the ball over eight times as well, aiding the hosts’ efforts.

The locker room after their lowest-scoring first half of the year played the role of a morning nap and greasy breakfast: merely a prayer for normalcy after a rough start.

Stage two of the hangover process, recovery, failed to yield positive results. In the early moments of the second half, the Rams continued to struggle offensively.

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A 3-pointer from redshirt senior J.D. Paige looked to be the elixir. Redshirt junior Hyron Edwards doubled the dosage with a 3-pointer on the team’s subsequent possession.

The pair of conversions from deep were part of a 13-3 run to dilute the Cowboys’ lead to only eight points, their closest margin since the 16:44 mark in the first.

Just as the visitor’s woes began their salvation, the headache that is James returned.

“We just couldn’t string stops together,” Medved said. “You dig yourself that big of a hole, especially with the tempo that they play at, it’s going to be very difficult.”

James hit a pair of 3-pointers to end the Rams’ run, bringing the lead back to 12 which would prove too big to overcome. The jumpers came amongst James’ gasping for air, having already played 30 of the game’s first 31 minutes. 

The lack of success on defense against James resulted in the Rams being overtaken by the guard’s 36-point effort. The tally was the third time in five games that CSU has allowed an opposing scorer to breach the 24-point mark.

On top of the Cowboys offensive performance, a myriad of problems plagued the Rams.

“We had one assist at halftime,” Medved said. “We’ve gotta play one way and I just don’t think we did a good job of moving and sharing the ball, having the mindset of trying to help teammates … I don’t care what the defense (does) if we play that way.”

A lone bright spot in the game for the Rams was the continued high-level play of Carvacho who tallied 15 points and 17 rebounds in the contest. The rebounding mark brought the big man within three of taking sole possession of the program’s all-time rebounding mark.

The double-double effort from Carvacho was his 16th of the year and 29th of his career, passing Emmanuel Omogbo for the top spot in program history.

“It’s all the effort and work that I’ve put in,” Carvacho said. “(I’ve been) doing all the dirty work and just trying so hard to get rebounds and help the team win.”

James finished the game with a career-high 36 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes, falling just short of a triple-double. Only one other Cowboys player scored double-digits. He was a headache that never receded. 

The Rams will have a quick turnaround in hopes of reversing course as San Diego State comes to Moby Arena for a Tuesday night bout. Tip-off is set for 9 p.m. with the game being broadcast on ESPN2.

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