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The Colorado State Rams play the game the right way.
Currently ranked 13th in the country, and with an opportunity to move closer to the top 10 with a road victory over Utah State on Saturday, Niko Medved’s squad has the country on notice with the way they have taken care of business to this point.
After going 12-1 in the non-conference slate, the Rams (13-1, 1-0) started Mountain West action with a 76-68 victory over the New Mexico Lobos (12-2, 0-1) on Tuesday night.
Led by the duo of Patrick Cartier and Isaiah Stevens, CSU’s starting five combined to score 67 points on 23-of-44 shooting in the victory (53 percent). It was the exact type of efficient outing we’ve come to expect from the veteran-laden group.
As of Jan. 04, CSU’s four starters that have played 13 or more games are all averaging at least 12 points on 53 percent shooting or better from the floor. So in a nutshell, this was pretty much a standard showing in terms of CSU’s scoring output. It’s not just one guy that can beat you, it’s the entire unit.
Cartier, who led all scorers in the game with 21 points despite only taking 12 shots, has been a man on a mission since a lower back injury caused him to leave the Creighton game just seconds into the contest.
Over the last seven games he’s averaged 15.57 points on 69.84 percent shooting and it’s not a situation where one big performance skewed things either. He’s scored in double-digit figures in every one of those games and never shot below 57 percent in the streak. As CSU also pointed out on Twitter, among players shooting five or more field goals per game, he’s one of just two players in the country shooting at least 55 percent from the floor, 45 percent from deep and 85 percent from the free throw line this year.
Following the win over UNM, Medved praised Cartier’s offensive skill and the way he challenges opposing defenses by opening up the spacing for the Rams. He’s so dangerous from the top of the key that defenders must respect his jump shot, however, as soon as they come out too far from the basket, Cartier may just blow past them for an easy layup. He’s a guy that can post up and beat you with his back to the basket. He’s an underrated passer. And when the versatile forward is out there for the Green & Gold, there’s no doubt that it elevates CSU’s offensive capabilities.
“He’s so skilled that way. He’s been huge,” Medved said. “I thought he was terrific tonight. And I think he did a great job of picking his spots when we had him in the rotation.”
“It just makes us so much more versatile and dynamic,” Stevens said of Cartier.
“When he’s aggressive and understanding we’re looking to play through him a lot in our offense, he makes a lot of decisions for us, and more times than not, he’s making the right one. He can finish, he can shoot the 3, he has a great feel for when to get off of it. And as far as tonight, man, he was the catalyst that I think really carried us through especially in that first half.”
Cartier spoke to his confidence in the system and how comfortable he’s been in his second year in the program. He explained that he’s really come to understand positioning and the ways that he is best suited to positively impact the floor. And considering the group of unselfish guys that surround him, including the best true point guard in the game, it’s a really fun brand of basketball for him to get to play.
“It makes it really easy for me,” he said.
Along with Cartier, Stevens (18), Nique Clifford (12) and Joel Scott (10) rounded out CSU’s leading scorers in the New Mexico game. The Rams are going to need to continue to depend on these four to shoulder the majority of the scoring burden for the remainder of the 2023-24 campaign.
What’s encouraging, though, is CSU will also benefit from Jalen Lake and Josiah Strong being back in the rotation. The Rams have a multitude of guys that are capable of pitching in with a 15-point night off the bench, too.
This is a unique team consisting of high character individuals that have all embraced the concept of team success over individual glory. Everybody knows their role and for the most part nobody tries to do too much. If CSU can play this style for the entirety of the season, this group very well may have an opportunity to go on a substantial postseason run. The first-ever regular season Mountain West title is firmly in their sights as well.