LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In its first Mountain West Championship game appearance in 14 years, No. 2 seed Colorado State could not get the offense going early, battled back to tie it but eventually lost to No. 1 seed Nevada, 79-71, at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. With the loss, the Rams slipped 23-11 while the Wolf Pack improved to 28-6 and earned the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolf Pack got off to a hot start, connecting on its first four shots from the field and opening a 9-0 lead just over two minutes into the game. CSU kept edging back but Nevada had the early answers through solid shooting, eventually building a 32-21 lead with just over five minutes to play in the opening half. Colorado State kept battling on both ends of the floor, but Nevada still managed to finish the half shooting 57.6 percent (19-of-33). Trailing by as many as 16 late in the period, the Rams got a running three from redshirt-sophomore guard J.D. Paige as the buzzer went off and headed into the halftime break trailing, 44-32.
CSU came out with a little momentum to start the second half and cut the lead down to six with the first six points of the half. The Rams eventually tied it at 51 with 11:31 left in the game on sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon’s three pointer. CSU had three chances to take its first lead of the game but couldn’t convert, and a Nevada 3-point play for the Wolf Pack put the top seed up for good. The Wolf Pack pushed the lead back out to six at 57-51 with three straight free throws on a foul and a bench technical, a lead the Rams could not overcome. CSU did get it back to within one in the final three minutes but could not get over the top.
Colorado State finished at 38.0 percent (27-of-71) for the game, including 11-of-33 from the three-point arc. Nevada shot 41.8 percent (23-of-55) from the game but took over at the free throw line in the final period, going to the line 34 times and hitting on 26 of them in the final 20 minutes. The Wolf Pack won the battle of the boards, decisively at 45-34.
Senior guard Gian Clavell led all scorers with 30 points but was just 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. Nixon had 23 points, while senior forward Emmanuel Omogbo contributed 10 points and 12 rebounds. For Nevada, Jordan Caroline led the Wolf Pack with 23 points, while Marcus Marshall had 21.
IN THEIR WORDS…
Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy
(on the game overall)
“ I'm most proud of our guys. They battled. They battled. They never gave up. They fought through a lot of adversity that was happening out on that court. They were perfect, perfect professionals out there. I thought they handled themselves extremely well. So I've had NCAA tournament teams that I haven't had the joy or the respect I have for this group of guys and what they've been through. And we still have some more basketball to play. But give Nevada credit. They grabbed some balls that made the difference in the game. I thought our guys played through a lot of adversity that was going on out there, missed shots, some turnovers, frustration, not grabbing the ball.”
Senior guard Gian Clavell
(on the losing this game)
“It's always tough. You always want to win. You want to go to the NCAA tournament, that's your goal all the time. Yeah, it's tough, but we've got an opportunity to play with this team together and that's what I'm looking forward to.”
STAT OF THE GAME…
Fouls were a major factor in the second half, as the Rams were whistled for 19 fouls, while the Wolf Pack were called for just six and 12 total in the game.
• This was Colorado State’s second appearance in the Mountain West championship game in the 18-year history of the league. The only other time, CSU won the 2003 tournament title to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
• CSU is now 14-17 all-time in the Mountain West Tournament.
• Senior guard Gian Clavell and sophomore guard Prentiss Nixon were named to the All-Tournament team for their play in the event.
• Clavell scored his 1000th career point as a Ram in the first half of the contest. He entered the game with 989 points at CSU. He now has scored in double figures in 24 of 25 games played this year, including 13 of 20 points or more and four of 30-plus.
• The Rams are now 5-9 this year when trailing at the break and 2-8 when outrebounded this season (3-9 in MW Tournament games overall).
• The 44 points given up in the first half ties the season high for an opponent (Kansas State (12/17/16) and New Mexico (1/14/17))
• Senior forward Emmanuel Omogbo extended his single-season school record with his 20th double-double of the season.
The Rams will await a possible postseason bid to an event, as invitations could be offered on Sunday night.
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