Haymaker shots were flying back-and-forth.
Every time it looked like Colorado State might go on a run to pull away, Nevada’s stars would hit a shot to pull the Wolf Pack back.
And so it went. A bucket for David Roddy and then one for Desmond Cambridge. Points for Isaiah Stevens, then a response from Grant Sherfield.
The last two times the CSU and Nevada men’s basketball teams played, it took a last-second winner to decide the game.
It looked like that might happen again Tuesday night at Moby Arena.
Then the Rams played a near perfect final 6 minutes to pull away for a 77-66 win.
“As good a win as we’ve had all year,” CSU coach Niko Medved said.
It might not be the best win as far as an NCAA Tournament resume, but the circumstances and how it happened show why Medved was so relieved.
The No. 22 Rams (16-1, 6-1 Mountain West) were down starter Adam Thistlewood and third-leading scorer John Tonje due to injuries.
Nevada (9-8, 3-3 MW) was dominant early, taking a 10-point first half lead as CSU struggled to score (33% shooting in first half) and defend with intensity
“I didn’t think our spirit was great,” Medved said.
But an early second-half surge brought it back to even and the teams were within one possession most of the half. It was 63-all with 6:03 left after a Cambridge bucket for Nevada.
The barrage came via a James Moors free throw, a Dischon Thomas free throw and then layup for Thomas. Then a layup for Stevens made it a 6-0 run to force a Nevada timeout.
It just continued. All of a sudden the Rams were up double-digits in the final minute and the game was in hand. After being tied at 63, CSU held Nevada scoreless for 5:11 and went on a 12-0 run to secure the win.
Here are four thoughts on another Rams win.
CSU had scored only 27 points at halftime and was 4-of-14 on 3-pointers. The Rams had allowed Nevada to go 8-of-10 on two-point shots (all makes in the paint) in the first half.
Both ends of the floor were poor for CSU.
The defense began to buckle down, though. Nevada shot 47% for the game, but turned the ball over 14 times and leading to 18 CSU points.
Sherfield (16 points) was kept pretty well in check as he shot 6-of-15. Cambridge (23 points) saw too many open looks, but no one else for Nevada got going.
On offense, the Rams started clicking. Stevens started the game 0-of-5, but hit five of his final seven shots and scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half.
Roddy was again excellent, scoring 18 points to go with eight rebounds and six assists. Chandler Jacobs, making his second start in a row with Thistlewood out, scored 14. Kendle Moore had zero first-half points but added nine big points (including a 3-pointer that hung on the rim for ages) in the second.
It's CSU's fourth time trailing by 10 points or more and coming back to win this season.
The offense made a complete turn, with the Rams hitting a staggering 68% of their second-half shots.
"Really, not a lot changed. We shared the ball a little bit more, the ball got stuck a little bit in the first half and shots weren’t falling in the first half," Roddy said. "In the second half, shots started falling and we got to the paint and kicked it out and everything. Just making more veteran plays."
Depth pays off
Not only are Tonje and Thistlewood important contributors on the court, their absence meant a shift in rotations and roles.
Then things were further thrown out of whack for CSU with starting center Thomas picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. Against a long Nevada team with multiple 7-footers, that could have spelled trouble.
In stepped Moors. He started most of last season but has seen his role and minutes reduced.
But he was ready.
“I told them after the game that there’s an old saying that ‘when opportunity comes, it’s too late to prepare,’ ” Medved said. “We don’t win the game without his defense. His defense was phenomenal.”
Moors also scored eight points and had four rebounds and three assists, playing arguably the most assertive, aggressive game of his CSU career. He hadn’t played more than 16 minutes in a game all year and had 25 Tuesday.
“I think a lot of it had to do with mindset,” Moors said. “Had to be prepared and stay locked in because you never know when something like this might happen and you have to be ready to step up.”
Isaiah Rivera also played an expanded role and performed well, helping keep CSU in the game with six first-half points as the Rams struggled.
This game was a prime example why playing 10 players through nonconference play was so important for the Rams.
Something about CSU and Nevada
There’s something about these matchups.
The 5,675 fans in attendance were almost certain to get a good one. Two years ago in Moby, it was a game-winner from Stevens. Last year in Reno, it was Sherfield knocking the Rams down with a last-second winner.
It wasn’t a last-second winner this game, but it was hugely entertaining. Cambridge and Sherfield hit some contested buckets to keep Nevada in the game in the second half.
These teams have star power and brands of basketball that spark each other.
Next up for CSU
The Rams are on the tail end of a six-game stretch of games against teams in the middle or bottom of the Mountain West.
It’s important to take care of those to set up for games against the top as CSU chases a conference title. The Rams are now 5-0 in those games following their first defeat of the season to San Diego State in early January.
CSU hosts UNLV at 7 p.m. Friday in the last of this run before facing title contenders Wyoming and San Diego State next week.
Another important game at Moby in the quest for a first MW title.
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This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Shorthanded Colorado State basketball slugs out comeback win vs. Nevada