FORT COLLINS - Few teams in the Mountain West are playing as well as Colorado State at the moment. The Rams won for the sixth time in seven games with a 78-62 victory over Fresno State in Moby Arena Saturday afternoon.
Both teams struggled to get anything going from the start, going a combined 2-of-8 from the field. The Rams (17-9, 9-4), who have regularly fallen into stretches of taking too many 3-pointers, put up five of their first six shots from beyond the arc.
It only got worse for CSU's offense as the half progressed. The green and gold hit just three of their opening 17 shots. But CSU stayed in the game thanks to a Bulldogs team that turned the ball over with regularity.
Seven FS turnovers led to 10 of CSU's first 11 points.
With Gian Clavell unable to find his shooting touch early, sophomore guard J.D. Paige came to the rescue for the Rams. The Denver native torched the Bulldogs defense in the first half with 14 points, including a corner 3 to cap a 10-2 CSU run.
"My teammates were looking for me today," said Paige regarding his offensive showing. "They have tremendous confidence in me. I'm not going to let anybody down on the team. So I've got to make the shot."
CSU led 21-18 at the time with 4:28 to play before FS went on their own 7-0 run to retake the lead. A circus shot from Anthony Bonner and another Paige 3-pointer gave the Rams a 31-29 halftime lead.
Larry Eustachy's crew held a two-point advantage despite shooting just 34 percent and being outrebounded 17-12.
As has so often been the case this season, CSU looked like a completely different team offensively in the second half. The Rams wasted no time extending their lead, jumping on the Bulldogs with a 16-2 run once play resumed.
The lead would only grow from there. At the 7:25 mark, CSU held their largest lead of 24 points. Eustachy, who moved into third place on CSU's all-time wins list, saw three players reach double figures in Paige (23), Clavell (19) and Emmanuel Omogbo (17).
Redshirt freshman Nico Carvacho also played a major role in CSU's success, pulling down 11 rebounds in a rare game where Omogbo totaled just three boards.
"I just try to keep growing every game," Carvacho said of his effort. "I try to do something to help the team win - scoring, rebounding, playing with energy, defense."
With five games remaining on the schedule and the Rams still a half game back of Nevada, a conference title is well within reach.
"It'd be huge," Paige said of possibly winning the Mountain West. "That's the goal."
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Paige - In addition to his 23 points, he made a career-best five 3's on seven attempts. He also made all four of his free throws. Though Paige was whistled for a technical foul at the end of the first half, he played nearly a perfect game.
BY THE NUMBERS
22 - The number of CSU points off FS turnovers
16 - Assists for the Rams, compared to seven for the Bulldogs. CSU came in averaging a mere 11 assists per contest.
35 - The shooting percentage for FS in the second half. CSU shot 50 percent from the field in the second half, including 5-of-10 from deep.
The Rams travel to Laramie Tuesday night for a Valentine's Day matchup with their rivals to the north. Tipoff against the Cowboys is set for 7 p.m.