FORT COLLINS - They may not have been as crisp as Larry Eustachy hoped pregame, but Colorado State got back to their winning ways at home. The Rams beat Utah State 69-52 Wednesday night in Moby Arena.
CSU (16-9, 8-4) not only completed the season sweep of USU, but also remain just a half game back of Nevada and Boise State in the Mountain West standings.
Both teams struggled mightily for much of the first half. CSU and USU combined to go 1 for their first 13 from the field. The Aggies had as many as five easy layup attempts in the opening minutes that they failed to convert. CSU led 4-0 at the first media timeout.
"We came into the game, talking to each other saying we're going to start the game playing defense," said Gian Clavell of his team's defensive effort. "As long as we play defense, play the boards, we'll be fine."
The lack of offensive production came to a tipping point toward the end of the half when CSU endured a stretch where they failed to score in a stretch of more than three and a half minutes. Larry Eustachy's crew went 0-for-7 in the process.
As has often been the case, though, the 3-pointer ignited the CSU offense. It started when J.D. Paige broke a 20-20 tie with a corner 3. Prentiss Nixon then bailed out the Rams offense with 3's on back-to-back possessions.
The outside shooting barrage continued when Clavell provided his usual instant offense with a make from beyond the arc as well. Paige, Nixon and Clavell capped a 10-0 run that the green and gold took into halftime.
"I thought it was big," Eustachy said. "It didn't give us any type of falseness. We just weren't shooting the ball well."
CSU got back to working the ball inside to begin the second half. Nico Carvacho got things going with a layup and dunk. The redshirt freshman center played arguably his best game since the Rams won in Boulder the final day of November.
"If other teams are going to start keying in on me and Gian, then other guys have to make plays," Emmanuel Omogbo said of Carvacho's effort.
The Rams took control and expanded their lead as the second half progressed. Eustachy saw four of his five starters reach double figures, with Clavell recording a game-high 24 points. Nixon and Carvacho tallied 11 points apiece while Omogbo added 10 points.
The senior forward Omogbo notched his 14th double-double of the season as he also finished with 14 rebounds.
Clavell stole the show yet again late in the second half, something he's made a habit of in recent games. The Rams leading scorer hit four straight 3-pointers that caused the Moby crowd to erupt despite the game being well in hand for CSU.
"I don't know what's going on around me," said Clavell regarding his hot shooting. "I'm feeling it."
Though he may go down as one of the purest scorers in CSU men's basketball history, Eustachy reassured postgame that Clavell is much more than just a sharpshooter.
"He's a very unselfish player," Eustachy said of his shooting guard. "He tries to get his teammates involved early and he takes a lot of pride in taking on the best player if he's a perimeter guy and stopping him."
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"We've got a chance to win it (the Mountain West). We're good enough. We've got seven great players that can get the job done. We're in good shape, so that's not an issue. We've just got to show it and get it done." - Clavell
BY THE NUMBERS
6 - The six 3's by Clavell were a season-best.
0:00 - Utah State never had a lead in the game.
5 - CSU's win Tuesday ensures a .500 or better season for the fifth straight season under the direction of Eustachy.
The Rams have had little trouble knocking off the teams they're supposed to beat. The road gets much tougher, as CSU has yet to play Nevada or Wyoming. Not to mention, the shorthanded Rams have a Feb. 21 date at The Pit against the Lobos.
CSU will look to avenge an earlier blowout loss as they welcome in Fresno State for a Saturday afternoon tilt. The Bulldogs have lost two of their last three games. Tipoff from Moby is set for 2 p.m.