Stevens shines in return for dominant win over Loyola Marymount

Colorado+State+guard+Isaiah+Stevens+%284%29+looks+to+pass+the+ball+during+the+mens+basketball+game+against+California+State%2C+Fresno+Feb.+11%2C+2022

Collegian | Gregory James

Colorado State guard Isaiah Stevens (4) looks to pass the ball during the men’s basketball game against California State, Fresno Feb. 11, 2022. The Rams won 65-50, bolstered by their passing, notching 19 assists in the game as a team.

Leah Cackowski

Braidon Nourse, Sports Editor

Even in limited minutes in his first game back from injury, there wasn’t much of a hump to get over for Isaiah Stevens.

After the former Bob Cousy Award finalist spent a month and a half recovering from a foot injury that required surgery, the Colorado State University (6-2) men’s basketball team announced on social media that he would be available to play in the Rams’ 87-71 win over Loyola Marymount University (6-3). 

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“(Teammates) make it easy,” Stevens said. “I’ve been playing with these guys for so long, we got some practice in over the last couple weeks. It was some learning each other again, like early on with some turnovers and stuff at practice, but that’s what you practice for.”

According to head coach Niko Medved, Stevens went to the doctor on Monday after practice to talk about potentially being cleared to play in tonight’s game. When Stevens got the good news, he called his coach to let him know immediately.

“I was actually at a donor function and my phone rang like three times,” Medved said. “He’s calling, telling me ‘coach, I get to play,’ and so I mean, he’s ecstatic… Man, he was just chomping at the bit to get out there.”

During team introductions before the game, the crowd at Moby Arena was so loud before Stevens’ introduction that his name could not be heard over the loudspeaker. It proved to be much deserved for the senior guard from Allen, Texas, who scored the Rams’ first seven points to send Moby into a frenzy.

“I couldn’t help but smile,” said senior guard John Tonje, who put up 23 points of his own against the Lions. “We both came in here at the same time freshman year. We wanted to start each others’ senior year together, but obviously that didn’t happen. To see him back on the floor, he obviously made my job a lot easier, and we’re just so blessed to have him.”

Although there was no timeline on Stevens’ return at the time of his injury, his clearance to play came much earlier than expected. Nonetheless, he made his mark in only 19 minutes of play. He finished the game with 13 points and four assists, much to the delight of Medved.

“I’m so proud of (Stevens), the way he’s handled everything through this has just been extraordinary,” Medved said. “It’s just the young man he is, he just brings so much energy to this team.”

For the rest of the Rams, it was another rough start from behind the arc, as they could only get four of their 15 attempts to fall in the first half. Despite the struggles from three, the Rams capitalized on opportunities in the paint, as they have been able to do for most of this young season. They entered halftime with a 32-27 lead.

The rim must have gotten a little larger for the Rams after the break to supplement their defensive improvement to start the second half. CSU would hit six of their 10 threes in the frame en route to a 55 point second half.

“We ramped up our defense, and I thought that’s really kind of what got us going there,” Medved said. “And then I thought we got into a great rhythm offensively in the second half. We did a good job of cutting and moving, and not just settling for threes. We were able to attack the interior and that led to better shots.”

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Over time, the team will implement Stevens into a larger role than tonight’s 19 minutes. Last season, he averaged just under 35 minutes per game.

“We’ll be diligent with (Stevens’ minutes), and hopefully, obviously, we’ll continue to ramp that up as he feels better,” Medved said. “Assuming he responds well tomorrow, he’ll be ready to do more and more. He is who he is, he’s going to be a guy I want out on the floor as much as possible, but we’ve got to make sure he’s in shape to be able to do that.”

The Rams’ next matchup is Saturday, Dec. 3 against the University of Northern Colorado at 2:30 p.m.

Reach Braidon Nourse at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @BraidonNourse.