It took a dramatic comeback and an All-American-type effort from Isaiah Stevens for Colorado State to take down UNLV at the Thomas and Mack Center earlier this month.
Unfortunately for the Rams, there was no storybook ending in the second meeting. Just another frustrating loss at the hands of their longtime conference foes (83-71).
The double-digit loss is CSU’s second in the last five days, after losing by 21 to Boise State over the weekend. It’s their eighth overall loss in the last 10 games. And it drops their record this season to 10-13, 2-8.
“Another frustrating night,” head coach Niko Medved said postgame. “We weren’t able to make enough plays or do enough to slow them down.”
Here are the takeaways from the matchup.
Death by (second) chance
If there are two things that you cannot do against this Rebels team, it’s turn the ball over or give them second-chance opportunities. CSU did both.
While the Rams did not record a ridiculous amount of turnovers, 12 is fairly average for a D1 game, the ones they did have were back-breaking and often resulted in easy transition baskets the other way.
UNLV finished with 19 points off turnovers, which definitely played a big role in establishing their lead. And of course, allowing 20 second-chance points off of 12 offensive rebounds was a major factor as well. Following the game, Medved spoke to this.
“Obviously, I thought the difference in the game tonight, some second-chance points really, really hurt us,” Medved said. “I thought some of the fast break points that they got hurt us. Those came off live ball turnovers or steals that way.”
Medved continued, explaining that his team just looked skittish on both ends of the floor, and failed to capitalize on good opportunities as a result. He also dove into the difference in depth, which we’ll get into shortly.
Ultimately the Rams have not been particularly strong defensively or on the glass this season, so the results in this one were not exactly shocking. When you are as inconsistent offensively as CSU has been of late though, it’s a really challenging way to win.
It’s tough enough trying to outscore opponents in the Mountain West without giving them “pick-sixes” or putbacks. You’re almost never going to win if they can produce close to 40 points in those two areas. As Medved said postgame, the Rams have to continue to work and get better there.
Difference in depth
Both teams got offensive production from their starting lineups. The Rebels, however, were able to get 33 points out of their bench unit, while the Rams recorded just 2.
“That was kind of the difference in the game,” Medved said.
CSU does not need anything crazy when it comes to offensive production from the rotation. At this point of the year it’s pretty clear what roles guys are capable of fulfilling, so you don’t want anybody trying to do too much and putting the team in a bad spot as a result.
That said, when you have four players combining to go 1-of-8 from the floor in 53 total minutes between them, keeping pace is going to be hard, especially when the other side had eight players score two or more field goals in the game.
Whether it’s Tavi Jackson or Joe Palmer knocking down an open three, or James Moors making his presence felt in the paint, the Rams desperately need a little bit more scoring from these guys if they are going to be playing significant minutes. Again, it does not not need to be 10 points apiece. But just take advantage of the open looks when they come.
Riding a rollercoaster
I feel like a broken record at this point, but the Rams are going to need to find more consistency if they want to turn this season around at all.
This group has more talent than what their record shows and you can see it in the spurts that they play well. The problem lately is that CSU keeps having about 10-12 minutes where they completely fall apart. They’ll be in the game and trading blows with the opponent, and then all of a sudden they are down by 20.
Medved talked about momentum and confidence postgame and how that can be a tricky thing. He explained that dealing with adversity and keeping the right mindset is challenging for all of us, but even more so young individuals.
“When they go through it, or they go through things that they haven’t ever been through in their life before, trying to work through that is hard. But the beautiful thing about it too, is that it can also change quickly the other way.
“With these guys, we’ve just got to keep battling,” Medved continued. “And clearly we have some guys that are struggling a little bit with their confidence. And they’re a little unsure of themselves. But I know that we can be better and we will.”
If there is a silver lining from this performance it’s that the Rams did get bounceback performances out Isaiah Rivera and John Tonje. Those two finished with 17 points apiece and really made a point to attack the paint consistently.
Patrick Cartier also finished with 17 points and went a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor. Even more noteworthy than the buckets though, the former DII star led the squad in rebounding with eight.
Finally, Isaiah Stevens paced the Rams in scoring with 18 points on 5-of-11 shooting. The senior point guard also led CSU in assists (7).