#MWMadness: Colorado State Ram-Tough in Blowout Win over San José State

 

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By W.G. Ramirez
Special to TheMW.com

 

LAS VEGAS - Colorado State and San José State met twice during the regular season, and while the Rams swept the series, the last thing they wanted to do was overlook the Spartans after two close games.

So the well-prepared Rams wasted no time in Wednesday's opening round of the 2016 Mountain West Men's Basketball Championship, and coasted to an 80-61 victory over the Spartans.

The sixth-seeded Rams opened up on a 17-4 run while No. 11 San José State missed 9 of 11 (.182) to start the game.

"We won this game with our two practices before we played," Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. "I knew we were sitting on a win just because of how in tune we were, how focused we were. It's a very unselfish team, but we were even more unselfish than normal. So you usually can tell, and I felt pretty comfortable. They missed shots, but we had a lot to do with it."

After the Spartans got back in the game and cut Colorado State's lead to 25-19 with 6:24 left in the contest, the Rams closed on 18-5 run to take a 43-24 lead into halftime.

"I thought our assistant coaches, give them all the credit, they did a great job for preparing this team and I just observed that we were as good as we've been," Eustachy said.

The Rams had five players score in double figured, led by Antwan Scott's 17 points and nine rebounds. Joe De Ciman also had 17, while John Gillon scored 12 and Emmanuel Omogbo and J.D. Paige each scored 10.

Omogbo also grabbed 13 rebounds, giving him his fifth double-double in his last nine games.

While it marked the ninth time this season the Rams had five or more players in double-figure scoring, they shot a scorching 54.9 percent on 28 of 51 shooting, including 8 of 20 from behind the arc.

"I think we just played together, as Coach has been telling us this all year, start inside out, and that's kind of what it was tonight," said Scott, who set a single-season school record with 90 3-pointers, after going 2-for-6 from long range. "We're getting better at doing that."

But it was the Rams' defensive pressure that most impressed their coach, as they stymied the Spartans from the opening tip.

SJSU, which dropped to 0-2 in the tournament since joining the league, finished 23-of-64 (.359) from the field, including 3-of-21 (.142) from 3-point range. The Spartans closed the game missing nine of their last 12 shots, failing to initiate any type of rally.

After scoring 24 and 20 points in their regular-season meetings, the Rams did a good job in shutting down San Jose guard Princeton Onwas, the team's third-leading scorer.

"He's their most talented player, and we knew when their plays broke down, it was going to get in his hand and he was going to drop his head and just drive it," Eustachy said. "I thought we did a great job of staying between him and the basket. Sometimes he's just too strong and got to the rim. But there's no question who their best talent and player that impacts the most, and it's him. So we certainly were aware of how we had to play him."

The Rams outrebounded San Jose State, 38-28, including a whopping 30-17 edge on the defensive glass. And even though the Spartans had the edge in offensive rebounds, 11-8, Colorado State outscored them with second-chance points, 21-12.

It was Colorado State's largest margin of victory in tournament play since 2012, when they beat TCU by 21.

The Rams advanced to the Thursday's 8:30 p.m. quarterfinal, where they'll meet No. 3 seed Boise State. The teams split their regular-season series, with the Broncos eking out a four-point home victory early in the season, and Colorado State returning the favor in double overtime in Fort Collins.

"It will be a great game," Scott said. "As Coach always says, defend, rebound, make plays at the end of the game and we'll be there."

Said Omogbo: "It's just another game."

 

Willie Ramirez is a Las Vegas-based freelance reporter and Southern Nevada correspondent for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: @WillieGRamirez