Isaiah Stevens and John Tonje have played a combined 231 games in a Colorado State uniform. Over the last four years, the duo have logged 6,387 minutes for the Rams. 

Game-winning shots, 30-point performances, there isn’t much that Stevens and Tonje have not done over the course of their careers. 

On Friday night, when the Rams needed a win to avoid being swept by their biggest rival, those two came up clutch yet again as Colorado State was able to beat Wyoming, 84-71, in front of a sellout crowd at Moby Arena. 

For Stevens, it was another night of making history, after surpassing Ellen Nystrom (584) for the most assists by any basketball player in school history. Stevens set the men’s program record in Laramie in the first game against Wyoming and now owns the record for either team. The senior point guard also tied the program record for assists in a single game (12) — the second time he’s done so this season. 

“Man, I didn’t even know I was close to the all-time (record),” Stevens told reporters postgame. “That’s big-time.”

Stevens continued, acknowledging that what makes the feat particularly special is the fact that he was able to dish out an assist to nearly all of his teammates in the win. 

“To get everybody involved on the team, that just doesn’t really happen throughout the course of a game,” Stevens said. “So, you know, they were really keyed in on me coming off my actions, and I just didn’t want to really force the issue and set my teammates up, and they made the shots. So shout out to them.”

Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens (4) attacks against Wyoming on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 in Fort Collins, Colo. Photo: Lucas Boland | Coloradoan

According to Tonje, who has become Steven’s right-hand man this season, a big part of what separates Stevens as a facilitator is his patience. Tonje explained that Stevens is a master of deception and manipulates defenders in so many different ways. So really, it’s about giving him the space that he needs to work. And if you do that, Stevens is almost always going to find a hole in the defense to create a quality look for himself or his teammates. 

Head coach Niko Medved had high praise for Stevens’ vision on the floor, as well as his ball handling skills and quickness in the lane. All of those things came into play in the win.

According to the fifth-year CSU coach though, what’s always made Stevens truly unique is his awareness. 

“From day one, when he came here, his goal was to be the all-time assist leader before he ever played a game,” Medved said. “So that’s pretty cool stuff.”

Medved explained how Stevens was always cognisant of his smaller frame coming out of high school and that it might take him some time to feel things out before he truly became an elite scorer at the D1 level. The one area where Stevens knew he could shine immediately though, was play-making for his teammates. 

“It takes tremendous awareness for a young player to understand that,” Medved said. “Now, as time has gone on, obviously, he’s figured out how to score. The game has really slowed down for him. He’s gotten stronger. 

“He has an unbelievable understanding of our offense and what we’re doing,” Medved continued. “He reads pick and roll situations, sees the third line of help, he’s like Peyton Manning at quarterback. They don’t just see the first or second read, they can see the third read before it happens. And they sure make me look a heck of a lot smarter than I am.” 

Along with Stevens, Medved also had a ton of good things to say about Tonje after the 6-foot-5 guard led CSU with 25 points on 7-of-15 shooting Friday night. 

John Tonje (1) drives on a Wyoming defender. Photo: Lucas Boland | Coloradoan

Medved brought up how Stevens and Tonje had produced 52% of the Rams’ points over the five games coming into the Border War and emphasized how Tonje has especially been a huge key in CSU’s improved play of late. 

“He’s really started to find a groove here,” Medved said, highlighting how the veteran has really come into his own while playing an increased role. 

Tonje’s presence was a big part of what set the tone for CSU on Friday night. The athletic guard put the Rams on the board for the first time by attacking the rim and drawing a pair of free throws. And that aggressive approach was something he brought to the table all game long. Tonje drew seven total fouls and knocked down eight free throws in the win. He also had a pair of two-handed dunks that were each worthy of being featured on SportsCenter due to the ferociousness with which he threw them down. 

“He’s at his best when he’s attacking, you know, and making threes,” Medved said. “I think he’s doing a better job of playing off of two feet in the paint. And when he does that, I mean, he’s strong, he’s athletic. You’ve really got to crowd him because he’s such a good shooter. And yeah, he was just awesome tonight.” 

Tonje’s explanation for his offensive success this spring was similar to Medved’s. He talked about playing with more aggressiveness and attacking defenses.

“I have a 6-foot-5 frame, so I have to use it sometimes. Sometimes I settle for threes, but I’ve been trying to be a lot more aggressive lately.”

While his approach has been a little more centered around driving, at the end of the day, Tonje feels that he’s just going out there and playing his game. He tries to focus on having a next play mentality and not over-thinking things too much, which is something that his teammates have helped him a lot with. And the result has been him playing some of the best basketball of his career. 

Beyond the numbers, which are certainly significant, in a season that has been extremely chaotic, perhaps what stands out the most about guys like Stevens and Tonje is how hard these guys have played. 

Medved emphasized that the entire team deserves credit for their buy-in this year through some really challenging stretches, but particularly Stevens and Tonje. 

“They’ve really stuck with it,” Medved said. “The season is not going the way that they want. But those two young men in there, to have the opportunity to coach them and the way they’ve handled all of this is just really incredible. I’ve been coaching for 27, 28 years, and those two are as good of young men as you’re going to find.” 

Ram fans will have one final opportunity to cheer on the senior duo at Moby Arena this spring when New Mexico comes to Fort Collins for Senior Night. Before the Rams host the Lobos though, CSU first has a meeting with the San Jose Spartans. 


Justin is a Colorado State alumnus and has covered the Rams for DNVR since 2019. Prior to coming to DNVR, Justin was the founder of and the Sports Director for the Rocky Mountain Collegian. From 2013-15 he was an intern for CSU Football.