The door was open for Colorado State’s magical season to conclude with a Cinderella ending. But the Rams were unable to pull off the upset in the Mountain West championship game, falling 79-71 to Nevada.
CSU (23-11) got off to a rocky start as Nevada stormed out to a 9-0 lead in the blink of an eye. For the Rams, the first half went eerily similar to the regular season finale one week ago against the Wolf Pack.
Nevada kept a comfortable lead for much of the first stanza thanks to 3-point shooting. Other than Gian Clavell, CSU could get next to nothing going offensively. Clavell scored 15 of his team’s first 21 points.
Despite a banked J.D. Paige 3 at the buzzer, Nevada held a 44-32 halftime lead.
But the Rams, who did much of their damage this season in the second half, crept back into the game. At the 11:52 mark, Prentiss Nixon hit from beyond the arc to make it 50-48 Nevada. The sophomore guard hit another 3-pointer seconds later to tie the game at 51.
CSU had their best chance to take their first lead of the game when Gian Clavell forced a Nevada turnover, giving the Rams a prime scoring opportunity in transition. But the Rams were unable to convert and afforded the Wolf Pack an and-1 opportunity at the other end.
Nevada pushed their lead back to six points as both teams started to show signs of fatigue. The No. 1 and No. 2 Mountain West tournament seeds went a combined 2-for-20 from the field at one point.
Larry Eustachy’s bunch didn’t go away, though. On two separate occasions, CSU trimmed Nevada’s lead to two points with makes from Nixon and Clavell. Paige then made it a one-point game with 2:38 to play.
However, what’s often been the strength of Eustachy-coached teams turned out to plague the Rams against the Wolf Pack. CSU got outrebounded 46-34, which included several key Nevada rebounds in the final minutes.
With the win, Nevada heads to the NCAA tournament as likely the lone representative of the conference. CSU figures to be a lock for the National Invitational Tournament.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Nixon – Clavell once again put together a 30-point performance, but went 3-of-12 from deep. Nixon finished 8-of-17 from the field on his way to 23 points. He also nailed 6-of-10 3-pointers.
BY THE NUMBERS
63 – Clavell, Omogbo and Nixon combined to score 63 of CSU’s 71 points.
4 – Nevada’s Cameron Oliver, who dominated the Rams a week ago in Nevada, had arguably one of his worst games of the season. The future NBA talent recorded just four points on 2-of-9 shooting. Foul trouble limited Oliver to 28 minutes.
35 – Nevada had 35 attempts from the free throw line. CSU, on the other hand, was at the charity stripe only 11 times.
It was an incredible season for this team, but they simply ran out of gas in this one.
After playing three games in less than 72 hours, CSU heads back to Fort Collins. The 2016-17 campaign marks the seventh time in the last eight years that the Rams will earn an invitation to postseason play.