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The winning streak is over for No. 13 Colorado State (9-1).
The Rams fell 64-61 to Saint Mary’s (5-5) on Saturday in front of the second sellout crowd of the season.
“It’s kind of everything you would expect when you play Saint Mary’s,” Niko Medved said postgame.
The sixth-year Rams coach continued, explaining that he was proud of the fight his team showed. CSU trailed for 29:06 in this one and went down by as much as 10, however, the shorthanded Rams did lead by 1 with a little over 2 minutes to go. The Rams also got off two looks from deep in an attempt to tie the game over the final 20 seconds. The ball just didn’t bounce CSU’s way in the end.
“That’s a terrific defensive team,” Medved said.
“I thought our flow wasn’t very good. We probably tried to do a little bit too much one-on-one at times. And that’s difficult to do against them. You really have to trust what you’re doing. But you know, we had our chances there late. They just made a couple more plays than we did and so that stings. But I guess we’re not going to be Indiana, the 76’ Hoosiers, we’re not going undefeated. We’ll grow from it.”
It was not quite as rough as when the Gaels held the Rams to 25 percent shooting from the floor in their 53-33 win over the Green & Gold on Dec. 19, 2020.
SMC did keep CSU below 40 percent as a team for the first time this season though. The Rams shot a season-low 37 percent and as Medved mentioned, they really struggled to maintain a consistent rhythm offensively.
You knew that an experienced team like the Gaels would bring the fight to the Rams, especially with their backs up against the wall after a slower start to their campaign than anticipated. So frankly the outcome, though disappointing, is really not much of a shock.
Randy Bennett is a great coach, the Gaels are an experienced team, and their suffocating defense is the reason that program went 53-16 over the last two years despite losing twice to the Rams. The Gaels did not have the same red-hot start as the Rams over their first 10 games. But that is a team that will very much be in the NCAA Tournament mix come March.
From a NET standpoint, the loss will go down as a quad 2 game, which won’t be a big blemish on CSU’s resume. Again, that’s not to say that the outcome wasn’t disappointing. The Rams had a chance to play their way into the top 10 in front of a ruckus Moby crowd.
In the grand scheme of things, though, the goal is to be playing your best ball in the spring. CSU was almost certainly not going to go undefeated this season but a 9-1 start with four high major victories is better than anybody would have ever imagined. So long as the Rams can rebound over these final three non-conference matchups, they are still going to be in great position when they begin the league slate.
One of those games
This was not a pretty game for CSU. SMC came in as a desperate team and played like it in a potentially season-saving win.
The Rams started the game with an 8-0 run over the first 2 minutes and for a brief moment it looked like they might just run the Gaels out of the gym. But that thought was quickly erased as the Gaels responded with a 19-2 run of their own, holding CSU to just one field goal over the next 10 minutes of action.
CSU, as they did all game, eventually responded with a run of their own to keep things interesting. The Rams used a 9-0 run of their own to go up 30-27 with 2:02 left in the first half. Though SMC ultimately led 33-32 at the break.
After going back and forth over the final 20 minutes, the game ultimately came down to a couple of key series that unfortunately all went in favor of SMC.
After Patrick Cartier put the Rams up 57-56 with 2:10 to play, CSU played good defense and actually stripped multiple SMC ball handlers on the ensuing possession. They just couldn’t quite secure the ball, which ended up in Joshua Jefferson’s hands around the paint, where he was able to cap off an ugly SMC sequence with a clutch floater.
Then with 52 seconds left and just two seconds on the shot clock remaining, SMC inbounded the ball from under the hoop and the Rams played pretty good defense once again. They prevented SMC’s initial targets from receiving the ball and the Gaels were forced to dish it to Jefferson outside, a player who came in shooting .077 percent from deep (2-of-26). But with the shot clock winding down, he managed to cash his second 3-pointer in this game.
“We guarded it exactly the way we wanted,” Medved said, explaining that they use the info available to determine which targets they are trying to eliminate primarily. “Give that kid credit. He made two 3’s tonight.”
Even still, CSU had multiple looks to tie the game late. Isaiah Stevens put up a stepback jumper from deep with about 10 seconds left. Afterwards he said that while he has made plenty of those in his career, it wasn’t his favorite shot selection in the world.
Nique Clifford also got off a fairly clean look from deep with 4 seconds left. It just didn’t seem to be in the cards for CSU.
Turnovers were big
CSU had 11 turnovers in the loss and that snaps a five-game of finishing with single-digit giveaways.
Considering the opponent, it’s not really something I’m all that worried about moving forward. This was just the fifth time in Stevens’ career that he’s had six or more turnovers in a single game and it was the first time he’s done so since his sophomore year.
As Medved mentioned earlier, there were times in this game where the Rams simply tried to play too much one-on-one basketball and that was not a recipe for success against a group that plays good on-ball defense.
Far too often guys drove into the lane without a plan and then tried to force a pass late through traffic. Other times they attacked the hoop but with how the defense was positioned they were never going to be able to finish over the defenders. Credit the Gaels for dictating the tempo in this one. The Rams definitely played to SMC’s favor at times by not working the ball more though.
Not the end of the world
Losing to a team with a record below .500 is not a great look on the surface. But as anyone that follows the sport will tell you, SMC is a quality opponent and the metrics back that.
The Rams still have a great chance of going into Mountain West play as a top 20 team. It’s all about taking care of business over these next three games. The week off in between games could not have come at a better time for a banged up squad.
This team has shown their capability. Don’t lose faith.