Colorado State and San Diego State have produced some epic matchups over the years, Wednesday night’s showdown was no different.
Led by Lamont Butler who scored a game-high 19 points, the Aztecs went into Moby Arena and grinded out an 82-76 overtime win over the Green & Gold.
After scoring only 28 points in the first half, SDSU managed to put 54 on the board over the final 25 minutes of play. They were particularly impressive in the extra period, as they went 3-of-3 from 3-point range and 5-of-7 from the floor overall.
For CSU, the loss is a tough one to take. The Rams led for over 29 minutes and they genuinely played extremely hard. But in the end, though they fought valiantly, the Rams ended up getting knocked down in the final round by a true heavyweight.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
A game of runs
The Rams jumped out to an early lead with a hot start from deep. Isaiah Stevens, Jalen Lake and John Tonje each hit a shot from beyond the arc in the first two minutes. And although there were dry spurts, each of those guys all would go on to hit a multitude of big shots in the game.
Conversely, SDSU hit just one 3-pointer in the first half (1-of-7), and for a long time it looked like the disparity in success from deep would be one of the determining factors. Shoot, there were long stretches where the Aztecs could not buy any type of bucket. After getting a dunk with 4:22 left in the first half, SDSU did not record another field goal until Darrion Trammell hit a mid-range jumper five and a half minutes into the second half.
Unfortunately for Ram Nation, basketball is a game of runs. And after being kept in the game by their defensive pressure, the Aztecs found their groove offensively down the stretch.
The Rams certainly had some self-inflicted wounds. On multiple occasions a CSU player seemingly passed the ball right to an Aztec. That’s what SDSU does though. They’re physical, they’re relentless, they clog up lanes and they put opponents in a position where they start to press things. For context, the Rams had 14 turnovers in the loss, and that’s not even a top 10 total for turnovers forced by SDSU this season. Arizona had 19 giveaways in their win over SDSU. It’s just what they do.
There are no moral victories at this stage of this season. The point of this is not to be dismissive of the mistakes because they will certainly haunt the guys when they look back at a few of them on tape. But it is important to understand the nuances of different matchups. All things considered, this was one of the better efforts by CSU all season, even if it ended in defeat.
CSU did not get punked
The Rams did a nice job of not backing down from SDSU’s physicality in this one. The Aztecs have a ton of a ton of length and have made a habit out of bullying opponents for years.
Coming off of a massive upset over UNLV on the road over the weekend, the Rams came out with a chip on their shoulders and really stood their ground against an SDSU squad that has been in the top 25 for much of the year.
The CSU players were active on the glass, collectively making an effort to box out and work hard for every loose ball. The Rams also refused to back down in the post, which was a big factor in such a physical game. If you allow the Aztecs to establish an overwhelming presence in the paint, you’re bound to be in for a long night. But the Rams, just as they did on the defensive end, responded to every punch with a counter of their own.
Each team finished with 28 points in the paint apiece. SDSU did win the rebounding margin but the Rams at least kept things close (38-32). Similarly to the turnovers, there were a couple of key stretches where the Rams allowed the Aztecs to collect multiple offensive boards on the same possession. Overall though, I felt that the Rams were active and gave a lot of effort on the glass, which is what you must do in a big conference game.
Through 20 games this season, there have been a lot of ups and downs for CSU. Despite that the Rams are just 1-2 over the last three games though, it really does feel like this group is showing signs of improvement and learning how to best play together.
CSU had five individuals with double-digit scoring figures against SDSU. One of the big standouts for the Green & Gold was Isaiah Rivera. The junior guard was coming off of a night in which he went 0-of-2 from the floor and had zero points in the win over UNLV, however, you would have never guessed that based on the way that he played against the Aztecs.
‘Riv’ paced the Rams in scoring in the first half with 11 points. He finished with 14 when it was all said and done. What stood out the most about Rivera was his hustle though. He was a bulldog on the defensive end and active on the glass. To go along with his scoring, Rivera pitched in with a couple of steals, as well as a big-time block on Matt Bradley in the second half.
Along with Rivera, Jalen Lake’s hot hand from deep provided CSU a consistent scoring threat against the stout SDSU defense. The sophomore guard from Texas hit five of his seven shots from 3-point range — all of which were timely buckets.
Despite dealing with foul trouble, John Tonje also had 13 points and hit three from deep against SDSU. Isaiah Stevens was clutch as usual too with 16 points and 11 assists. When the game was on the line, it was Stevens that was able to force OT with a strong drive and finish at the hoop.
Finally, while he may not stand out in the box score the way that some of his teammates do, James Moors was extremely impactful, especially on the defensive end and on the glass. The big man from New Zealand was given the start after his big performance against the Rebels and made the most of it by leading CSU in rebounding (8).
CSU will try to get back in the winning column against Wyoming on Saturday up in Laramie. The Cowboys have struggled this year but you can never discount the impact of a rivalry and how it can bring the best out of an opponent.