FORT COLLINS - In spite of a dreadful performance on offense, Colorado State kept their magic going Saturday night. A 3-pointer from Emmanuel Omogbo lifted the Rams to a 56-55 victory over San Diego State in a packed Moby Arena.
CSU (20-9, 12-4) kept hold of first place in the Mountain Place with two games remaining. It marked the second time this season that the Rams needed late-game heroics to defeat the Aztecs.
In San Diego, the green and gold got a career game and end-to-end drive from Gian Clavell. Saturday night, though, it was Omogbo delivering easily the biggest shot of his life.
"I was unconscious," said Omogbo of what was going through his head with his team down 55-53 with seconds remaining. "That was probably my parents that forced the ball to go in and my nieces and nephews. I knew it couldn't have been only me. Then again, I was missing all night. I had to make one."
SDSU took little time jumping on the Rams, connecting on a pair of 3-pointers before the first media timeout. CSU, meanwhile, looked like a team that was pressing, missing their first five field goals.
It turned out to be an omen for the remainder of the first half. CSU shot just 29 percent and went 1-for-12 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes. The Aztecs turned the tables on the Rams, making 5-of-8 from deep.
Trey Kell and Malik Pope paced SDSU with 10 points apiece, hitting all four of their 3-point shots in the first half.
A CSU team that's relied on heavy lifting all season from Omogbo and Clavell got next to no offensive output from either to begin. Omogbo totaled just two points before halftime, much in part to being on the bench with foul trouble.
Clavell wasn't much better, recording a mere four points on 2-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-7 from 3-point land.
CSU quickly trimmed the Aztecs lead to four by their first media timeout of the second half. But the Aztecs got their lead back up to nine points while taking advantage of a stretch where CSU went 1-for-8 from the field. Throughout the contest, the Rams settled for contested shots on the perimeter.
Larry Eustachy's crew used their defense to stay in the game, forcing the Aztecs to shoot 25 percent in the second half. A SDSU 2-for-12 stretch coupled with five straight points from Clavell helped the Rams tie the game. A Prentiss Nixon free throw gave CSU its first lead of the game at the 2:20 mark.
A Dakarai Allen and-1 at the other end silenced the crowd as the Aztecs went back on top 55-53 with 23 seconds remaining. But on the most important play of the night, Carvacho caught the inbounds pass and found Omogbo for the game-winner.
"When you have a team that can shoot 31 percent and still win, you've got a lot of heart," Eustachy said. "They (SDSU) took us out of everything and we took so many bad shots, but that's what you're going to do against SDSU."
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"You can feel the growth of the program. I just feel it. There was a different scent in the air today about this game." - Eustachy speaking to the overall atmosphere at Moby
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Omogbo - Not only did he hit the game-winner, but he also notched his 17th double-double of the season while tying a conference record with 12. Omogbo finished with 11 points on 3-of-7 shooting to go with 11 rebounds.
BY THE NUMBERS
52 - The combined number of 3's between the teams
24 - The number of shots taken from Clavell. The guard from Puerto Rico made just six of them. Clavell had a game-high 18 points.
6 - Consecutive wins for the Rams. They've also won nine of their last 10 going back to mid-January.
It's getting more and more difficult to come up with ways to describe this CSU team. They've faced numerous obstacles that could have easily sent them into a tailspin, but they've rallied as a team under Eustachy.
CSU plays its final home game of the regular season Tuesday night against Wyoming. Not only will it be the second Border War in a matter of weeks, but also Senior Night for two of the most decorated players in recent years. Tipoff from Moby is set for 8 p.m.