For just the second time in school history, Colorado State will be playing in the Mountain West championship game. The Rams eliminated San Diego State early Saturday morning with a 71-63 victory at Thomas & Mack Center in the tournament’s semifinal round.
It will be CSU’s first time in the conference title game since the Matt Nelson-led winning squad in 2003.
The Aztecs took control early with a 15-2 run to begin the game. SDSU made the most of CSU miscues, scoring 15 of its first 24 points off turnovers. A physical, opportunistic Aztecs team got Gian Clavell off his game for much of the first half, in large part thanks to the effort of Dakarai Allen, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
CSU (23-10, 13-5) finally built some momentum offensively toward the end of the half, connecting on six consecutive field goals while the Aztecs found themselves in a 2-for-9 stretch. The game was tied briefly at 30 until SDSU went on a 6-0 run to end the first stanza.
Not only were the Rams careless with the basketball, but couldn’t seem to keep the Aztecs off the glass. SDSU held a decisive 18-12 rebounding edge in the first half.
Steve Fisher’s crew extended their lead back up to eight coming out of the break before the Rams slowly closed the gap. CSU took advantage of Allen picking up his fourth foul, going on a stretch where it hit 5-of-6 from the field.
J.D. Paige tied the game at 52 with a 3 before a Prentiss Nixon jumper gave the Rams their first lead of the night with 6:31 to play. Larry Eustachy and company never trailed the rest of the way.
CSU gave itself some breathing room with consecutive 3’s by Clavell and Paige that turned out to be backbreakers for the Aztecs. SDSU got to within five points on two occasions, but never came any closer as the Rams salted away the contest with free throws.
Eustachy saw four of his players reach double figures for the second straight game. Clavell led the team with 21 points to go with Emmanuel Omogbo’s 16, Nixon’s 16 and 11 from Paige.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Clavell – The senior guard dealt with a pesky Allen for much of the night, but still managed to tally 21 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Once again, Clavell put together an all-around performance, as he also picked up six steals. The Mountain West Player of the Year never came out of the game.
BY THE NUMBERS
13 – In all three meetings with the Aztecs this season, the Rams rallied from 13 point deficits.
19 – Omogbo recorded his 19th double-double of the 2016-17 campaign with 16 points and 11 rebounds. The senior forward broke the CSU single-season record of Jason Smith’s 18 double-doubles in 2006-07.
33 – After shooting 47 percent in the first frame, SDSU shot just 33 percent in the second half.
It’s another quick turnaround for the Rams, who will have about 10 hours to rest before tipping off with Nevada for the conference title and chance to head to the Big Dance. The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds will jump it up from Thomas & Mack Center at 4 p.m.