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Nique Clifford, Isaiah Stevens star in a crucial bounce-back win for Colorado State over SDSU

Justin Michael Avatar
January 31, 2024

Moby Madness was in full effect Tuesday night. 

In front of a raucous crowd of 8,093, Colorado State responded from one of the program’s most painful losses with a statement win over San Diego State (79-71). 

Led by the duo of Nique Clifford and Isaiah Stevens, who scored or assisted on 27 of CSU’s 28 field goals, the Rams were able to produce their best scoring output of the conference slate against a program known for its lockdown defense. On a night where the Green & Gold really needed to be able to count on the stars, those two shined in a major way. 

Clifford got the offense rolling early, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first half. But his loudest bucket came with 6:45 to play in the second half.

Less than a minute after the Aztecs went up 61-60, their only lead of the night, the 6-foot-5 guard threw down a monster dunk to put the Rams back up by 3. It was an electric moment and the crowd went berserk in response. 

With a final line of 8-of-11 for 20 points, Clifford has scored in double-digit figures while shooting 70 percent or better six times this season. His ability to impact the game from every level makes him such a challenging defensive assignment for opponents. His value to this team is so much greater than just the scoring though.

Clifford also paced the squad in rebounds (10), was second on the team in assists (5) and had a team-high four steals. In 30 minutes on the floor, the former Buff was a game-high +24 in the win.

Nique Clifford throws down a monster dunk against San Diego State at Moby Arena. Photo: Ryan Greene | DNVR

Matching Clifford’s 20 points, Stevens scored 10 in each half and was the glue that kept everything together. Against a physical SDSU defense, he was consistently able to create space and find ways to either get a shot off himself or get the ball to an open teammate. And in the few minutes he was not on the floor, you could really feel the impact. 

After the Rams went up 21-7 in the first 10 minutes of the game, Stevens checked out briefly and SDSU immediately proceeded to go on a 10-0 run over about a minute and a half of gametime. As soon as Stevens and the starters came back in, though, CSU immediately got the game back under control. 

When it was all said and done, Stevens totaled 20 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals. The veteran point guard hit three of CSU’s seven 3-pointers. It was pretty much everything you would expect of him in a signature matchup. 

“These are the games that you dream about. The games that you get up and work for in the summertime,” Stevens said postgame. 

He continued, explaining that the Aztecs have always been one of the toughest teams to beat in the Mountain West. For Stevens, though, the opportunity to compete against the best is a driving force. 

“That’s the standard. From winning, from individual standpoints, whoever you want to throw out there over these past few years. Heck of a program over there with coach Dutcher. And those games are just always fun, especially going back to some of the COVID games and even the Mountain West Tournament games. The last few times we’ve played them have been nailbiters.” 

Isaiah Stevens celebrates towards his teammates in a 79-71 victory over San Diego State. Photo: Ryan Greene | DNVR

Coming off of such a heartbreaking defeat up in Wyoming and really a challenging three-week stretch as a whole, many wondered what type of response the Rams would have against a team that still features many of its pieces from last year’s National Championship appearance. I think the Rams answered that with the way they took care of business in this one. And as Niko Medved talked about postgame, this really was a special performance from a group that’s been through the wringer of late. 

Saturday wasn’t an ordinary loss. It was the type of gut-wrenching meltdown that can derail a season if not handled with the appropriate response. To CSU’s credit, this team never lost faith in each other. Instead of pointing fingers or freaking out, the Rams remained a unit and lifted each other up. In fact, instead of a traditional practice on Sunday, CSU played a team game of kickball over the weekend

“We weren’t going to dwell on it or anything like that,” Medved said. “You don’t go in and try to shame these guys for what they did. They all know. Everybody else tries to shame them, but they know the deal. They care, they hurt.”

Medved continued, explaining that he told the players that life is all about how you respond when wrenches get thrown your way. And when times get tough, that’s when you have to really reflect inwards and lean on the people that truly care about you. 

“We talked a lot about life. You don’t get many texts after those games, right? You don’t get a lot of words of encouragement or ‘hang in there’. But who are the people that did that for you? Those are the people that matter the most. Those are the people in your circle. Those are the people that have your back when things get difficult.”

“We lifted and I just decided, you know what? We’re not going to spend one second getting ready for San Diego State (today). It’s 60 degrees outside in Fort Collins. Let’s go out and play some kickball. And so we went out and that’s what we did. The guys laughed, they had fun, and I told them that when we walk out of here, not one person is hanging their head. Stick your chest out, head up, and we’re going to fight. I knew we would.” 

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