Bryce Hamilton came into Moby Arena and stole the show in front of a sold-out crowd.
Friday was supposed to be a celebration of sorts for the Colorado State men’s basketball team filling the stadium to the brim for the first time in seven years.
The Rams are ranked in the top-25 and entered Friday’s game against UNLV in superb positioning for NCAA Tournament projections.
Then Hamilton happened, in one of the best scoring nights an opponent has ever had against CSU.
The UNLV senior guard is one of the best pure scorers in the Mountain West and seems to relish the big moments.
The crowd seemed to energize him and Hamilton couldn’t miss, shooting down CSU in a 88-74 win for UNLV.
Here are three thoughts on the game and what the loss means for the Rams.
Hamilton, UNLV on fire
Hamilton is second in the Mountain West in scoring and was cruising, averaging 28 points per game over his last three outings (including two over 30).
UNLV (12-9, 4-4 Mountain West) was missing three key players, including second-leading scorer Donovan Williams. That meant it was going to be the Hamilton show.
He was ready for it.
Contested 3-pointers, tough shots inside and drawing fouls — he was doing it all offensively. Hamilton hit five of his seven 3-point attempts in the first half to give UNLV an 18-point lead at the break.
He then hit his first 3-point attempt of the second half, as if to send a message that there would be no comeback attempt.
Hamilton made a career-best seven 3-pointers (13 attempts) and scored a career-high 42 points (the official number was originally listed at 45, but changed to 42 via a postgame stat correction in the official box score).
That's tied for the fifth-highest total for an opponent in a game against CSU and the third-highest scoring night for an opponent at Moby (Kendall Williams of New Mexico had 46 in 2013 and Freeman Williams of Portland State had 44 in 1975). It equals the 42 Jimmer Fredette scored in 2011.
"We didn’t do a great job of bringing help. He’s a guy that wasn’t shooting the ball well from 3 early in the year and now he’s really got in a rhythm in the last five games," CSU coach Niko Medved said. "You can see when he’s shooting the ball like that, he’s a very difficult cover."
Hamilton is averaging 31 points per game at Moby in his last four (he played just 5 minutes and scored two points as a freshman in the game at CSU). He also added seven rebounds and five assists.
"He was obviously special," Medved said. "Some of that was us, but you have to give him a lot of credit, too. He was phenomenal."
Not only did CSU never slow Hamilton, UNLV won every other battle as well. UNLV outscored CSU 24-22 in the paint, outrebounded CSU 36-27 and had 16 second-chance points to CSU's 10.
UNLV shot 51% for the game.
Big picture implications
This is the first truly damaging loss on CSU's NCAA Tournament resume. The lopsided defeat at San Diego State was ugly, but still a Quad 1 loss by the NCAA’s NET rankings.
This is a Quad 3 loss, the type of defeat that drags down a resume. UNLV entered Friday with a NET ranking of 130 and CSU was No. 25.
This game doesn’t sink CSU’s at-large hopes, but it reduces the margin of error. The good news, if you will, is the back-end of the schedule is loaded with Quad 1 and 2 games for CSU (16-2, 6-2 Mountain West) to boost the resume. That also means there are plenty of places where CSU could stumble.
The loss to UNLV also hampers CSU’s Mountain West regular season title hopes. Again, it doesn’t end it because the Rams have all the top teams left to play, but it sure doesn’t help.
CSU does not have much time to wallow in this loss with a key game 6 p.m. Monday at Wyoming, which is a Quad 1 opportunity.
"Wyoming doesn’t care what happened tonight. We’ve got to flush it and move on, learn what we can but at the same time it’s a quick turnaround," CSU guard Isaiah Stevens said. "We can’t dwell on this. We can’t continue to be content with what happened tonight and we’ve got to improve. And we will improve."
Slow starts an issue
Now, there were plenty of problems that led to the defeat in this one but the trend of starting games slow is becoming an issue.
It happened Friday as the Rams started the game shooting 0-for-6 and took more than 4 minutes to get their first point. The offensive woes extended through the first half (CSU was shooting 7-for-24 at one point) while Hamilton was getting hot at the same time.
"We have to play with desperation right away, not just when you get punched in the mouth," CSU's David Roddy said, also mentioning that offensive movement was too slow and not sharp enough.
The sellout crowd of 8,053 fans stayed engaged, but CSU didn't take advantage of the superb atmosphere.
Stevens scored a career-high 35 points for CSU, but few others ever found a rhythm. The inability to consistently stop UNLV meant a comeback was never really on the cards.
CSU never held a lead in the game and the closest the Rams cut the deficit in the second half was 11 points.
This was an exaggerated example of what happened Tuesday when the Rams went down double-digits to Nevada in the first half. CSU rallied to win that one, as they have several times this season.
But CSU is only averaging 13 points in the first 10 minutes of the game in Mountain West play.
Slow starts happen, but it’s too frequent right now and a tough trend to live with long-term.
"It’s got to start from the tip," Roddy said. "We’re definitely going to work on that, and that’s not happening again."
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This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: CSU basketball stunned by hot-shooting Bryce Hamilton, UNLV