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Colorado State dismantles Virginia, builds solid foundation for potential run

Colorado+State+University+forward+Joel+Scott+attempts+a+shot+in+a+Mountain+West+mens+basketball+championship+semifinal+March+15.+CSU+lost+to+the+University+of+New+Mexico+74-61.
Collegian | Emma Askren
Colorado State University forward Joel Scott attempts a shot in a Mountain West men’s basketball championship semifinal March 15. CSU lost to the University of New Mexico 74-61.
CTV Sports Anchor Leah Cackowski recaps CSU's victory over Virginia.

DAYTON, Ohio – Colorado State men’s basketball asked for a dance, Virginia politely declined.

The Rams were chosen as the very last team into the field of 68, something they felt was a big mistake made by the NCAA selection committee. Despite the shock, coach Niko Medved remained calm on Selection Sunday and said that oftentimes teams in the play-in can generate momentum and go on deep runs.

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Of course actions speak louder than words and CSU made abundantly clear who the better team was in their 67-42 walloping of Virginia. 

Momentum: check.

Big run: why not? 

“I’ll tell you what, hard to imagine tonight going any better for us,” Medved said. “I’m just so proud of our guys (and) the way they handled the last 48 hours. It’s just incredible preparation, the travel, the mentally having to change from Selection Sunday to now. They’ve just done a beautiful job.”

CSU found baskets in basics. Share the rock and find the best matchup. 

All night long that was Joel Scott in the low post. Virginia’s inability to defend down low was exactly what the Rams wanted to exploit. 

“All year we’ve been talking about setting the tone physically,” Scott said. “Whether that be in the paint, whatever we’re doing defensively (and) offensively. And I think tonight that really showed up and I think needs to carry on throughout the rest of the tournament — on to the next game at least.”

While UVA’s Ryan Dunn is a premier shot blocker, he was only able to do so much against Scott who had him staring at the ball falling through the nylon all night long. 

Scott finished with his second double-double on the season, scoring his CSU career-high of 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbing 11 boards in the most important game of his CSU career. Shaquille O’Neal coined the term “barbecue chicken” to describe dominating a defender in the post, and the Rams low-post duo was definitely cooking up something similar. 

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“I’ve definitely used that term with Joel,” Patrick Cartier said. “Just how strong he is and how he’s able to just overpower a lot of his defenders. He was unstoppable tonight, which we’ll need going forward.”

Scott might be new to this stage, but he’s well-versed in what it takes to win come tourney time.

He led Black Hills State University to the semifinals in last year’s Division II tournament. Like so many of his other attributes, knowing what it takes to win has seamlessly transitioned into Division I play and of course, winning equals fun.

“Honestly I think it was just more enjoying the moment,” Scott said. “We’re on a big stage, very cool experience, not everyone gets to do this. And so it’s more of just enjoying the moment and having fun with it.”

The Rams returned to what they had treated fans with so often in the nonconference slate of games. 

Part of that was Cartier, who has struggled recently, but tonight he returned to form. It really feels like Cartier has a signature stat line, tonight that was 12 points on 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Safe to say, a much needed vote of confidence.

“It was huge,” Cartier said. “Obviously, biggest stage we’ve probably been on this year and it’s kind of cool to showcase that personally, but more importantly (tonight was about) how we were able to showcase our team and our togetherness.”

Togetherness: that’s the CSU way.

Fort Collins’ favorite wing Nique Clifford showcased his talent in every aspect of the game. Notching his 9th double-double of the season with an impressive 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Clifford will be the x-factor for the Rams if they are indeed to be the next Cinderella team.

The chip on his shoulder that has been such a big motivator for him all season only grew after the committee selected CSU as a First Four team.

“Oh, yeah we definitely took it a little personal,” Clifford said. “We felt like we were better than the seed we got, but we’re super grateful to be a part of the tournament.”

CSU earned their way into Charlotte, North Carolina and if their Cinderella run is to come to fruition, they’ll need to out-duel Texas. The game will tipoff at 4:50 MDT on Thursday.

“I told the guys, ‘only 9% of the teams get an at-large bid,'” Medved said. “‘So that’s pretty special to do that. So let’s go play.’ And that’s what we did tonight and now we’re excited about the next one.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

Interested in more sports content? Sign up for Ram Report here for weekly CSU sports updates!

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About the Contributors
Damon Cook
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.
Emma Askren
Emma Askren, Sports Editor
Emma Askren, alongside Damon Cook, is the fall 2023 sports editor for The Collegian. She began working at The Collegian during her first year in the fall of 2022, when she covered the swim and dive team as well as anything sports-related. She is currently a sophomore at Colorado State University, where she is majoring in journalism and media communication and double minoring in Spanish and sports management. During her first year, she joined the rowing team, began working as a reporter for The Collegian and working at the Student Recreation Center. Askren applied to CSU as a journalism major, knowing she wanted to combine her passion for sports and writing to create a fulfilling career. Upon realizing that Rocky Mountain Student Media was hiring for first-years, she jumped at the opportunity to become a writer for The Collegian. While working for the sports desk, Askren has had the opportunity to write about hockey, logging, whitewater rafting and the importance of women in sports. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, she seeks to break the status quo and become a successful sports journalist following graduation. Following a year as a sports reporter, Askren became a co-editor for the sports desk alongside Cook. Together the duo seeks to create a new and improved sports desk that caters to all readers of The Collegian and beyond.

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