Colorado State fell to 0-3 in league play Wednesday night with an 80-69 loss to the Nevada Wolf Pack in Reno.
A shorthanded Rams squad, which earlier this week lost freshman forward Kyle Evans for the season, was able to compete well in stretches in this one. With about 7 minutes left in the game, the Rams actually held a two-possession lead and even looked like they may be able to steal one out on the road (64-59).
Unfortunately for the Green & Gold though, while CSU (8-8, 0-3) did play well enough to have a shot to win for about the first 15 minutes of each half, the Rams seemingly ran out of gas and did not close well in the first or second period of action. And that ended up being the biggest difference in the game.
After Isaiah Stevens put the Rams up by 3 with 4:45 left in the first half, Nevada proceeded to close it out with a 13-1 run to take a 40-31 lead into the break. Then, in the second half, after CSU clawed its way back and looked poised to potentially pull the upset, the Wolf Pack finished with a 21-5 run over the final 6:50, closing the door on any possibility of a comeback victory for the Rams.
Here are some more takeaways from yet another game that got away from the Rams.
Cartier and Stevens gave the Rams a chance
While the outcome was frustrating, especially after the way CSU came up short at home against San Jose State, the biggest bright spots for the Rams were Isaiah Stevens and Patrick Cartier.
Stevens recorded 16 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor, while also leading the squad in rebounding (5) and assists (4). He has not been quite as consistent of a 3-point shooter as he was a season ago — his shooting percentage is down about 5% from deep — his ability to create quality looks for himself as well as his teammates remains the Rams’ biggest offensive strength though.
Coming off of his foot injury, one might have wondered if Stevens would be able to attack with the same relentlessness that Ram Nation has become accustomed to seeing over the past couple of years. The senior looks confident on the drive though, and he has consistently shown that he can play at a variety of paces, which is huge for a true point guard that does his damage below the rim.
As the season progresses I would expect Stevens to start knocking down a few more open shots from deep. There is always going to be a little rust when you have missed significant practice time like he has this season. And ultimately he’s just too good of a shot maker to finish 25 percent from 3-point range like he did in this loss (1-of-4).
That said, as long as Stevens is able to get to the basket with his savvy handles and explosive driving abilities, the Rams are going to have an opportunity to get quality looks on most possessions.
For one thing, Stevens is a great finisher down low despite only being a 6-foot-0, 180-pound guard, so he commands a ton of attention as soon as he starts to go to the hoop. But if the defense tries to close in on him, Stevens is selfless enough to dish it to the open man.
In a time where there are few guards that truly run the point, having a guy like Stevens to lead this group is big. He needs some of the other veterans on the team to pick up their game and start consistently knocking down shots. The fourth-year starter is pretty much always going to give CSU a chance though.
The other guy that has most consistently produced of late, Patrick Cartier, had a nice showing in a losing effort as well. The former Division II All-American finished with a game-high 18 points in 24 minutes on the floor. What’s more, he did so with just nine field goal attempts, so it was a really efficient outing (7-of-9).
The 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward needs to show progress on the defensive end and as a rebounder. Two rebounds is not going to cut it when you spend the majority of your time around the paint. However, while he may not be an elite rim protector or someone that has shown he can own the glass, Cartier’s as smooth of a scorer in the post as this program has had in a while.
It does not matter if he is playing with his back to the hoop or if he simply drives on a defender, if it is a one-on-one situation, Cartier is likely going to create a quality shot. His footwork is insane, his touch off the glass is next level, and he’s demonstrated a toughness down low that allows him to score against bigger guys. Defenders shouldn’t sleep on his passing abilities either because he has no trouble making a skip pass to an open shooter on the other end of the court.
Again, Cartier needs to be more of a two-way player if the staff is going to be able to count on him to play in crunch time. There are too many quality bigs in the Mountain West to be able to concede the paint, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes at a time.
The counter, of course, is that he’s such a valuable scorer, it’s hard not to count on him when the team is struggling to knock down shots. On any given possession you can simply dump it to Cartier down low and odds are he’s going to score or get to the line.
It will be really interesting to see how the minutes in the front court are managed over the final two months of the season, especially now that Evans is no longer in the picture. Cartier continues to give teams buckets on a nightly basis though.
Shooting struggles continue to cost CSU
The Rams have been a streaky team all season — so it’s not as if this was anything new — but the inability to knock down open shots once again killed CSU on Wednesday.
While CSU did have more turnovers than usual (15), they were able to create quite a few quality looks throughout the night that just did not fall. And it felt like on the other side, when Nevada got a wide-open shot, it went down just about every time.
It’s not a situation where one guy is to blame. As a team the Rams simply need to be more consistent if they are going to be able to win some of these tough conference games. Otherwise it’s going to be hard to keep pace in a league that is as deep as it has ever been.
We’ll see if the Rams can respond when they return to Moby Arena on Saturday for a game against a red-hot Fresno State team.