LAS VEGAS — Never a doubt.
Colorado State nearly blew a double-digit lead late in the second half against Fresno State on Wednesday afternoon. After going up 60-48 with just under 8 minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs came storming back with a 17-2 run to go up 65-62 with 1:46 showing on the clock.
Staring down the possibility of an epic collapse though, seemingly positioned for an early trip back to Fort Collins, Isaiah Stevens reminded folks why he has been a four-time all-conference selection in his career.
After the Bulldogs had just taken the lead for the first time in the second half, Stevens confidently drove into the paint, finished through contact and proceeded to complete the 3-point play at the free throw line to tie the game at 65 apiece.
Then less than a minute later, after the Rams were able to get a stop on the defensive end, Stevens once again took matters into his own hands. With 5.6 seconds remaining in regulation, the savvy senior put the ball on the floor and knocked down what would be the game-winning runner with 2.7 seconds to go.
Of course, the Bulldogs still would get an opportunity to try and tie the game or potentially even win it. However, after advancing the ball past mid-court, Isaiah Rivera was able to deflect the inbound pass off of a Bulldog player and cause a turnover at the most opportune time for the Green & Gold.
And in the end, despite having multiple scoreless droughts of 3+ minutes in the second half and looking like they may be dead in the water, the Rams were narrowly able to escape the Thomas and Mack Center with a slim 67-65 win over the Bulldogs.
“I don’t know what to say other than survive and advance. Somehow we did here today,” Niko Medved said in his introductory statement at the postgame press conference.
“I don’t think we managed a lot of the end of the game well, and you’ve gotta give Fresno a lot of credit for sticking with it there, but I’ll give (my) guys a lot of credit — we managed the very end of the game very well. We didn’t panic when they took the lead late. We got the stops that we needed. And obviously, Isaiah made some big-time plays like he always does.”
When asked if there was ever any doubt for CSU, Stevens replied with a smirk that there might have been a little. As he ultimately explained though, these are the types of games that competitors love to participate in.
“Those games are always fun to be in,” Stevens said. “It’s always a battle when we play Fresno. I have a lot of respect for that program and those guys over there. A lot of them, I’ve been playing for a large part of my career, so it’s always fun to battle.”
Between Stevens and John Tonje, the senior duo combined to score 39 total points on Wednesday, including 16 of CSU’s final 20 points in the win. Of CSU’s 21 made field goals, 16 were made by those two.
While it’s unclear whether either will elect to return for a fifth season of eligibility in a Rams uniform, at the very least it’s exciting that CSU will have an opportunity to try and play spoilers against San Diego State in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Aztecs have made the title game in six consecutive seasons, so getting through SDSU is certainly easier said than done. After beating a similar squad in terms of length and physicality this time around though, we’ll see if it benefits the Rams with handling an even bigger and better squad in their second game of the event.
“San Diego State is so unique,” Medved said. “They’re older. They’ve been here before. You know, maybe there’s some similarities, physically. But the one thing about San Diego State tomorrow, like, man, there’s not going to be a lot of gimmicks. We pretty much know what it is going in. We’ve just got to be able to meet it head on.