LAS VEGAS — So close.
Colorado State gave No. 20 San Diego State all it could handle on Wednesday. In a game that featured 11 lead changes and nine ties, the Rams battled the Aztecs for 40 minutes of extremely physical basketball and damn near landed the knockout blow.
With under a minute left in regulation and the Rams trailing by a bucket, Isaiah Stevens was able to create multiple quality looks that appeared to be going in. After getting a favorable bounce on a made three not too long before that though, alas, Stevens could not find the bottom of the net. And in the end, despite fighting like hell, the Rams were defeated by the Aztecs, 64-61, at the Thomas and Mack Center.
While it’s disappointing to see their run come to an end — had they gotten through SDSU, CSU would have had a strong chance of winning the whole thing — it’s not as if the Rams should hang their heads in any way. The truth is that the Rams played really well against what is the deepest squad in the Mountain West by far. They just needed one more bounce to go their way.
“I don’t know that we could have done anything different,” Niko Medved said postgame. “I have no beef… We had some good looks that didn’t fall. (SDSU) would probably say the same thing. I don’t know. But I don’t know that I would have done anything different with those guys.”
Medved continued, explaining that he did not want to call a timeout late and give SDSU a chance to deny the ball to Stevens. And really, they were standard quality looks for the veteran guard in the final 30 seconds. The kind of plays we’ve seen him convert hundreds of times before.
Stevens got to the rim in transition with 19 seconds left but couldn’t finish the layup through SDSU’s big men. He then got to his spot and was able to get off an elbow jumper with 4 seconds left. “I was literally right behind it and when he let it go, I’m like that’s down,” Medved said of the latter. “And I thought it was going down. Tonight it didn’t. But he’s made a lot of those in his career. So you live with that result.”
“That’s part of the game,” Stevens said. “That’s why you go out there and compete, work on your skills and prepare the way that you do. But that’s the kind of sport that basketball is. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We just didn’t make as many plays tonight but they were right there for us. Those are the kind of games that we enjoy being in but like coach said, it definitely stings.”
Stevens missed his first nine shots and finished just 5-of-20 from the floor in what was a surprisingly inefficient outing for the point guard. Of the 16 points he scored in this one, 11 came in a 2-minute spurt in the second half, so it really was a struggle shooting for him for the majority of the game.
While it’s easy to look at that statline without context and complain about the volume of shots he took in the loss, the reality is that CSU would not have even still been playing if it weren’t for Stevens’ heroics just 24 hours prior in the win over Fresno State. And while 75% of them did not fall for him, it’s not like he was jacking up bad attempts. Stevens ran the floor the way that he always does. He just unfortunately missed more shots than any of us are accustomed to seeing. But sometimes that happens. Sometimes you miss. Sometimes you lose.
Oftentimes we want to be able to dissect a loss and pick apart every little detail. And we do this because it’s more comforting to think, well, if we just change this, then the results would have gone our way. The reality though is that sports have a much bigger element of randomness and luck than any diehard would ever care to admit. You could shoot the same shot the exact same way 100 times and it might go in on 98 of them. This was an instance where you got one of the flukey two though.
Losing like this stings. It’s the type of game you talk about with your buddies for years. However, as painful as it is, it’s also the type of game where you should be proud of the fight displayed by your team.
I would have loved to have gotten to cover another game with this group in a chaotic Mountain West Tournament. But more than anything, I’m just grateful to have gotten to watch a player like Isaiah Stevens for the last four years. Selfishly, I hope we get one more. But if this is the end, what a special journey it’s been.