March 21, 2013. Colorado State cruises to an 84-72 victory over Missouri in the NCAA Tournament. Led by senior guard Dorian Green, who scored 26 points, CSU was able to earn its first and only win in the big dance since 1989.
For the Rams, after a disappointing showing against Murray State in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the emphatic win was a moment of redemption. Even with CSU getting eliminated by the eventual national champions in the following round, getting to that stage was monumental for a senior-laden team that rejuvenated CSU men’s basketball over the course of their careers.
Now ten years removed from the historic win over the Tigers, Green is currently the assistant head coach at Northern Colorado. And Niko Medved, who was in his final season as an assistant for the Rams in 2012-13, has obviously since returned to lead the program as head coach following stints at Furman and Drake. Both coaches caught up with DNVR this week to commemorate CSU’s monumental win in the big dance and reflect back on that time period in Rams history.
On an appearance on the DNVR Rams Podcast, Green said looking back on the win 10 years later, it was the culmination of everything that he and his teammates had worked for. They were sold on being the guys that would turn the program around back when they were initially recruited and the cool thing is that’s exactly what they did.
“When coach Miles recruited us, he always said his whole goal was we’re going to make it to the NCAA Tournament, and we’re going to win when we get there,” Green told DNVR.
As much as they had accomplished in their careers — like winning 16 games during their freshman season after CSU had won 16 games in the two years combined, reaching the CBI (2010), the NIT (2011) and ultimately the NCAA Tournament as juniors (2012) — after getting “smoked” by Murray State the year before, Green explained that the Rams were on a mission to return to the big dance and win as seniors.
“Going into that last year, it was you know, let’s stay together, we’ve got unfinished business,” Green said. “So I think more than anything, we were a group and we were together, and I think that was the biggest part of our success.”
With Tim Miles no longer in the picture after leaving for Nebraska, and Larry Eustachy now at the helm, the Rams started the 2012-13 season with six consecutive wins, including a dominant performance on the road against Washington on Nov. 24. After trailing 30-28 at halftime, CSU came out and pounded the Huskies on their home floor over the final 20 minutes and left Alaska Airlines Arena with a 72-55 win.
Following the hot start under Eustachy though, CSU stumbled a bit in early December, losing on the road to Colorado and Illinois-Chicago in the same week. As Green explained, the Rams just didn’t play that well during that stretch.
To the credit of that CSU team, the Rams did not let the two-game losing skid compound into a bigger issue and instead they were able to regroup with four wins over the ensuing week.
Starting with an 83-55 throttling of North Florida at Moby Arena on Dec. 17 and ending with an 88-52 beatdown of Virginia Tech at the Orleans Hotel on Dec. 23, the Rams were able to get back to their winning ways right before Christmas, 2012.
“We were going to do whatever it took to win. And we were going to figure it out,” Green said. “And we were going to have to change for sure. It’s just part of the deal when you get a coaching change. There’s going to be some different stuff. But I think at the end of the day, it’s about embracing the change a little bit, too.”
In a one-on-one conversation with DNVR, Niko Medved praised both the players and Eustachy for being able to essentially learn how to best operate together on the fly. There have been many examples over the years of new coaches not being able to make it work with a locker room full of veterans, but fortunately this was not one of those scenarios. A tight knit group of players was willing to put aside their own egos and accept a new regime. And Eustachy, an experienced and previously successful coach, was able to make some adjustments that helped the team flourish.
“There was some toughness added,” Medved said. “Obviously we became one of, if not the best rebounding team in the country. But it all really came together for us at that tournament in Las Vegas.”
Medved continued, explaining that you could really feel the confidence and togetherness of that team going into 2013. And in an extremely deep Mountain West, that proved to be a big strength for CSU. If a group full of seniors had been more focused on individual glory than team success, who knows if the Rams would have been able to survive a gauntlet of a schedule. But because of the selfless mindset of that group, they ended up going on one of the most memorable runs in program history.
Looking back on it all, one of the key moments that sticks out to Medved all these years later is the road win over Nevada on Feb. 6, 2013. On a night when the Rams needed a win to keep pace in a tight race for the conference title, CSU was already missing Pierce Hornung with illness when Colton Iverson ended up getting into foul trouble. Thankfully for the Green & Gold, with the Rams on the ropes, Greg Smith ended up dropping 28 on the Wolf Pack in what was described by Medved as an “epic freakin’ performance”.
“Sometimes those wins go unnoticed — when other guys find a way to step up and get it done,” Medved said.
Another game that stands out from that 2013 run, but in a less fun way, is when Kendall Williams hit ten threes in a 46-point performance for No. 16 New Mexico as they took down the Rams, 91-82, in Fort Collins.
“Unfortunately, I remember it like it was yesterday, the game that cost us the regular season Mountain West Championship,” Medved said.
While we could go back and look at just about all of those big conference games down the stretch — the ‘Orange Out’ win over San Diego State, a 22 point blowout over Wyoming, etc — Senior Night against Nevada was significant going into the MW Tournament because Dorian Green suffered the first real injury of his collegiate career. Although it did not end up being season ending or anything like that, Green sprained his ankle significantly enough that he was only able to play 8 minutes against the Wolf Pack in his final home game as a Ram. He ended up missing CSU’s first game in the conference tournament as well.
“I remember him coming over to the bench and sitting next to me,” Medved said. “And he had that look on his face, like, oh boy, this is not good. And he’d never missed a game. You know, that was his Senior Night.”
After missing a win over Fresno State in the MW Tournament, Green returned to the lineup in a 75-65 loss to UNLV in the semifinals. He was not 100% but was able to tough it out and log 18 minutes for the Rams. Two days after that, on Selection Sunday, CSU found out they would be getting Missouri in the 8-9 game.
Green reflected on trying to bounce back from the ankle injury, explaining that it was definitely a funky process for him going into the tournament. That combined with the fact that he played one of the worst games of his career against Murray State the year before were big motivators for him. He wanted to prolong his season as much as possible.
“It’s always nice when you make a few shots and can kind of get in rhythm,” Green said. “I just remember in that Murray State game, I could never really find the flow. And so I was just bad. So I definitely personally wanted to play better because I was awful in that Murray State game.”
Well, one year after scoring zero points and recording five turnovers in the loss to Murray State, the legendary Rams guard absolutely took over in the 2013 win over Missouri. Green scored 17 points in the first half alone and ended up finishing with a game-high 26. He led CSU that day in field goals, 3-pointers, free throws and minutes played. It was an absolutely fitting showing for one of the most decorated players in school history.
“We drew Missouri in the NCAA Tournament and obviously, you know, Dorian is from Kansas City,” Medved said. And then he just goes out there and has an absolute career night in the NCAA Tournament, you know, to beat Missouri. And I just remember the joy that he had. It was just such a cool moment for that young man and for our program. For him to start every game, to get hurt and have his status be uncertain, then to come back and have that performance against a team from back home, it’s pretty special.”
Unfortunately, CSU’s March Madness run would come to an end just a few days later, as the Rams ended up facing the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals in Lexington, KY. during the round of 32. It was quite literally the worst possible matchup the Rams could have ended up with.
Despite how that run came to an end though, the 2012-13 season is one that Ram fans can always look back at with a smile. It was a special group of players that started at the bottom and ascended their way up the mountain top together And while it’s now been 10 years now since that special run, it won’t be something that is soon forgotten.