Colorado State (9-8, 1-3) snapped a four-game losing streak with a convincing 79-57 victory over Fresno State (6-9, 2-2) at Moby Arena on Saturday.
Going back to 2019, the win over the Bulldogs is the eighth in a row for CSU in the series. The Rams now lead the all-time series 25-18.
In what was arguably a must-win scenario for the Rams, CSU was able to put together a strong showing on both ends while maintaining a double-digit lead for the majority of the game. After dropping a couple of tough games to begin league play, it was a great way for CSU to regain some confidence and get back on the right track before Air Force comes to Fort Collins on Tuesday.
Defensively the guys were active and disruptive, which is a big reason why the Rams were able to force 13 turnovers and hold the visitors to just 39 percent shooting from the floor. It’s also why CSU was able to get out on the break and attack Fresno State in transition. The Rams scored 24 points on the fast break and the majority of them were started by miscues from the opponent (20 points off turnovers).
On the offensive end, CSU played with purpose in the half-court sets, working the ball inside-out and whipping it around the perimeter to create quality looks against a stout Fresno State defense. And unlike in some of the recent losses, those good looks consistently fell for the Green & Gold this time around.
The Rams shot 55 percent from the floor overall (29-of-53) and 48 percent from 3-point range (14-of-29). What was particularly encouraging about the offense was that everyone was involved though. CSU recorded 26 assists on 29 made field goals, which is already impressive. But what’s more, it wasn’t a one-man show. Six different Rams finished with three or more assists in the win, including the Isaiahs, Stevens and Rivera, who had six apiece. Four different guys finished the afternoon with double-digit scoring figures as well.
In a game-high 38 minutes on the floor, Stevens tied for the team lead in scoring with 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Now sitting at 505 assists in his career, the savvy point guard needs just 26 more to surpass Ryan Yoder’s all-time program record (530).
Along with Stevens, Patrick Cartier continued his streak of double-digit performances with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. He has really proven to be an efficient and deadly weapon for CSU in the paint, and will be in the conversation for all-conference recognition if he keeps scoring at this pace for the remainder of the season.
As good as the leading scorers were in this one, and they genuinely were terrific, it was Isaiah Rivera and John Tonje that sparked CSU’s red-hot shooting from deep. After the Rams had missed their first six 3-point attempts, the aforementioned guards combined to make four straight over a three-minute stretch late in the first half. Over the final 26:30 of action, CSU ended up shooting 60 percent from deep (14-of-23), but it all started with their run.
Tonje finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists in one of his best games of the season. Rivera was impactful in a multitude of ways as well, as he led the team with two steals, while also scoring 9 points, dishing out six assists and pulling down three boards.
Rounding out the leading scorers, Jalen Lake hit three 3’s and scored 11 points in 28 minutes. His jump shot is the prettiest on the team, so it’s nice to have the sophomore guard out there as another scoring threat. That said, the Rams really benefit the most from the impact he makes on the defensive end. Lake has developed into a terrific on-ball defender and he’s one of the better shot contesters on CSU too. While there may be a little bit of rust to work through as he attempts to get back to 100 percent, it’s clear that the Rams are a more competitive team when they have Lake in the rotation.
Finally, while he did not see as many minutes as the guys we have already discussed, James Moors played with great energy in his 15 minutes of action, finishing with six points, four rebounds, one block and a steal. Now more than ever, CSU needs to be able to rely on the veteran big man to be a key piece of the puzzle. His performance in the win was hopefully a sign of what’s to come down the stretch. He does not need to be an all-conference player, Moors simply needs to be an effective defender, work the glass, and be competent enough on offense that other teams have to respect him as a scoring threat.
It’s been a tough season for Niko Medved’s group thus far. The Rams have played a challenging schedule while trying to work through a seemingly never-ending list of injuries. Saturday’s lineup was already the eighth different starting five in 2022-23 and we haven’t even made it to February.
As we have already seen in the early portion of the Mountain West slate though, anything is possible if you can play your best game for 40 minutes. If the Rams can scrape together more games like this, they just might be able to make a little noise over the next seven weeks, even in a really deep conference.
We’ll see if the Rams can keep the positive momentum going against Air Force on Tuesday before beginning one of the toughest stretches of the schedule. It’s the type of game you have to win if you want to be able to finish in the top half of the league. And it’s the type of game that a team as talented as CSU should almost always win at home.