CSU eliminated in second round of NIT by red-hot Road Runners

Justin Michael

After the top three seeds in the quadrant were each eliminated in the opening round of the NIT, the Colorado State men’s basketball team knew that they controlled their own destiny.

With an opportunity to secure a third postseason home game, the Rams came out in front of the hometown crowd and got run off the court by California State University-Bakersfield, losing 81-63 in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Rams struggled to get anything going on offense early, missing the first five field goal attempts of the game and taking a 20 point deficit into halftime. CSU would ultimately go the opening five minutes of the first half without recording a field goal, before sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon was able to break the scoreless drought by making a layup.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Eustachy, his program, and what he has done here,” CSU-Bakersfield head coach Ron Barnes told the media. “I thought tonight was our best game overall this season. I thought we executed a game plan of what guys were doing and they were on point with that. We defended well, but the offensive and defensive combination was probably the best we have been this season and we needed it tonight.”

Contrarily, the Road Runners came out with their guns blazing. CSU-Bakersfield finished the first half 10-of-13 from beyond the arc (76.9 percent) and 18-of-33 from the field overall.

“Unfortunately we ran into a freight train today,” head coach Larry Eustachy said. “Towards the end of the game, I was asking (assistant coach) Willie Glover who would have beat this team tonight.”

Three Road Runners would finish the first half in double-digit scoring totals, but Jaylin Airington (14) and Damiyne Durham (12) did the majority of the majority of the damage. The duo missed only one field goal attempt each, totalling a combined 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting.

Much like the Rams run through the Mountain West Tournament, much of the weight was shouldered by Nixon and senior guard Gian Clavell.

Nixon scored seven of the team’s first eight points and finished the first half in double digits (13 points). The Illinois native has seen his numbers rise exponentially throughout the season and now scored in double digits in the final three games.

Clavell closed his collegiate career with a fitting performance, leading all scorers in the game with 21 points and recorded eight rebounds.

Besides Clavell and Nixon, the Rams as a whole failed to create any sort of rhythm offensively. Only two of the team’s contributing seven players made more than one field goal in the contest and CSU barely shot 30 percent from the floor.

“Their defense is exceptional,” Clavell said of CSU-Bakersfield. “They are a great defensive team and when they shoot the ball like that, you have to play them near perfect.”

Clavell leaves CSU as one of the top-20 scorers of all-time, even though the native of Puerto Rico started only two full seasons in a Ram uniform. Emmanuel Omogbo leaves the program as a top-20 rebounder and individually had one of the best rebounding seasons in program history.

“I don’t want to stop playing with these guys; they are a great group of guys to play with, especially Gian (Clavell) and Emmanuel (Omogbo),” Nixon said. “I have learned so much over the last couple of years with them. I know they are not going to stop trying to teach me new ways to help build this team and become a leader of this team.”

Subsequently defeating Colorado State late Monday night, the CSU-bakersfield will travel to No. 6 Texas-Arlington University Wednesday night. UT-Arlington is coming off of victories over BYU and Akron.

Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com or Twitter @JustinTMichael.