Men’s basketball loses a heartbreaker before conference tournament

Bailey Bassett

Photo illustration show an image of both male and female basketball players with the text "In the Paint, Collegian Basketball Coverage"
(Graphic Illustration by Colin Crawford | The Collegian)

LAS VEGAS — Colorado State’s 92-91 victory over the University of Nevada, Reno in the 2019-2020 season was perhaps the biggest highlight of last year’s CSU men’s basketball season, and Isaiah Stevens’ game-winning shot is a memory sure to give Wolf Pack fans nightmares for years to come. 

This time around, Nevada was the one breaking CSU’s hearts in the closing seconds. In crushing fashion, the Rams lost their final game of the regular season 85-82

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Nevada’s Grant Sherfield was the player who prevented CSU from collecting the two seed in the Mountain West Conference after he sent a 3-point dagger through the heart of the Ram faithful with two seconds left in the game.

A year ago, Stevens made his move and created separation by sidestepping to the left. The shot by CSU’s star guard couldn’t be blocked. This time around, Nevada’s star guard made his sidestep to the right and created enough separation to get his shot over the outstretched arms of none other than Stevens. 

Stevens got a taste of his own medicine in a play that was eerily similar to how CSU won last season. The difference: This time there was still time on the clock. The Rams had one second to advance the ball full court and attempt a prayer of a 3-pointer to tie the game. 

David Roddy desperately launched the ball to Stevens, who bobbled the ball for a split second before heaving a falling away shot from well beyond the arc that miraculously went in. Unfortunately, Stevens’ late-game heroics were not meant to be this time around. 

Stevens’ game-tying shot attempt was a split second too late, and his toe was one inch too far out of bounds, meaning the would-be tying shot didn’t count. 

This loss allowed Utah State University to surpass the Rams in Mountain West standings. Still, CSU finished the season with the most conference wins they have had in program history. A win in the conference tournament ensures an automatic bid into March Madness, and although an at-large bid is still on the table, CSU will need a strong tournament run to continue to play late into March.

CSU’s great regular season secured them a first-round bye. In their first matchup, the Rams will face off against the winner of California State University, Fresno and the University of New Mexico.

In the regular season, CSU won both of their games against Fresno State as well as their sole performance against New Mexico. Below are important factors the Rams will need to keep in mind in order to play to their true potential. 

Continue to limit turnovers

During a five-game stretch that saw the Rams play Boise State University, the University of Wyoming and the United States Air Force Academy, CSU was averaging 17.4 turnovers per game. They were finding a way to win games, but the turnover problem was a clear issue that needed fixing. They did just that and have not had more than 12 turnovers in any of their closing three regular-season games. CSU isn’t the biggest team nor are they the best rebounding team in the conference, so with the limited second-chance opportunities, preventing opponents from getting extra possessions will be key. 

Live by the three, but do not die by it

The Rams are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference, but by no means do they live and die by the three. Efficient volume shooting from behind the arc has been a trend all season long. Still, CSU hasn’t made double-digit threes in a game since their Jan. 16 matchup against San José State University. 

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CSU’s reliance on the three, especially when it has not been falling, is a little dangerous. If the deep ball is not falling, getting the ball inside to Roddy will be a major key. The Rams’ hard work in the paint will help to open up looks outside, and sticking to this system will be something they need to do as competition heats up. 

Bailey Bassett can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @baileybassett_.