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No. 20 Colorado State is still perfect after Saturday’s 86-81 win over the Washington Huskies.
It was not the most impressive win on CSU’s resume. The victories over Creighton and Colorado were bigger deals.
But on a night where the Rams (8-0) were far from full strength and had to overcome early foul trouble that resulted in Isaiah Stevens having to sit for an extended period of time, CSU found a way to win its eighth game in a row despite some really challenging circumstances.
The Rams were already missing Jalen Lake after he broke his finger in practice earlier this week. Things got even tougher on the Green & Gold when Nique Clifford was ejected on a highly debatable flagrant 2 foul less than 6 minutes into the game.
Fortunately Patrick Cartier was able to play 20 minutes off the bench after being a game-time decision coming in.
With 36 personal fouls called between the two teams and 15 lead changes in the matchup, though, this was definitely a night where CSU’s ability to persevere was put to the test.
This was a game that very easily could have gotten away from the Rams. Losing your star point guard for the last 5 minutes of the first half is a recipe for disaster for most groups, especially after already losing a starter and missing your sixth man.
To the credit of the Rams, they were able to keep the game tight and only trailed by one possession at the break (44-41). Washington lit it up from deep, shooting 7-of-14 from 3-point range over the first 20 minutes. 21 crucial bench points and a +10 advantage in the paint allowed CSU to hang around though.
In the second half, with Stevens back on the floor, the Rams immediately came out attacking and did a better job of getting out in transition. CSU scored 13 of its 18 fast break points over the final 20 minutes and that relentless pressure gave the Huskies troubles defensively. As a result, the Rams shot 11 free throws in the second half, while Washington was unable to get to the line once.
While the officiating was certainly frustrating for most of the night, you have got to give a lot of credit to CSU for keeping composed and adjusting to the whistle. After picking up 11 personal fouls before the break, CSU only committed five after it. They did so while still playing quality defense, too.
Here are some more takeaways from CSU’s fourth high major win of the year.
Diverse scoring output
CSU scored from every level in this win. The Rams had 40 points in the paint, 27 from beyond the arc, they hit some timely mid-range shots and they got to the line.
This group just hunts quality looks and it’s a testament to their mentality. If a guard is driving and sees that he can dump it off to a big down low, that’s what he does. If the option to swing the ball an extra time or two gives someone else a cleaner look in rhythm, the Rams do it every single time. Nobody tries to do too much and everyone looks to make the heady play. It’s really beautiful team basketball and it’s why CSU frequently finishes with multiple guys in double-digit figures.
Leading the way against Washington, Joel Scott had 17 points and eight boards in a team-high 34 minutes on the floor. The former DII Player of the Year was a beast down low and did a good job of getting to the free throw line consistently. He also hit a massive shot from downtown to put the Rams up 81-78 with about 1:10 to go. He continues to be a really seamless addition to the starting lineup and has been one of the more underrated players in the country to this point.
Along with Scott, Patrick Cartier had 16 points in a clutch 20 minutes off the bench. The “jeweler” had missed the last two games with a back injury but was able to tough it out for a big performance against the Huskies.
Josiah Strong reset his high water mark at CSU for the third time in five games, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting. He’s looking more and more comfortable offensively as the season progresses, which is encouraging considering the Rams are working through some injuries at the moment. It should also be noted that Strong pulled down five rebounds and five assists. The veteran has been such a massive boost after missing most of last year with mono.
Finally, Isaiah Stevens had 12 points and five assists on a night he had to deal with foul trouble. Joe Palmer also finished in double-digit figures for the second straight game despite picking up four fouls himself (10 points).
Rams will make history Monday
The Rams are currently ranked 20th in the AP Poll but it seems highly likely that they will jump at least a few spots after picking up two more Pac-12 wins.
CSU’s highest ranking in program history was No. 18 all the way back in 1953-54.
It’s about time that the Rams top that mark.
Anything is possible for this group
While there is still a ton of basketball to be played this season, with what the Rams have achieved to this point, it’s fair for Ram Nation to start thinking big.
This team is good enough to win the Mountain West. They’re good enough to make a substantial run in the NCAA Tournament. It’s all on the table for the Rams right now.
Staying healthy will obviously be a major factor. And you never want to start feeling yourselves too early. But honestly this group seems like they are perfectly suited to deal with that type of situation. This is a special team and this is a special season.
Enjoy the ride. Seasons like this don’t come very often.