Dec. 29, 2008
By John Manuszak
Athletic Media Relations
HONOLULU, Hawaii - For the second time in three days, Colorado State pulled off an improbable victory as the Rams advanced to the championship game of the Outrigger Hotels Rainbow Classic with an 82-76 win over Vermont on Monday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Colorado State will take on the winner of the Colorado - Buffalo game (8 p.m. MST on Monday) in the title game on Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. MST. It will mark the second consecutive appearance in the Rainbow Classic championship game for the Rams, who also advanced to the title game the last time the Rams played in the tournament in 2005.
Coming off the bench for the second consecutive game, Marcus Walker led the Rams with 26 points and scored nine straight points for CSU in the final 5 minutes as CSU hung on for the win. CSU (5-8) led by as many as 13 points on two occasions in the second half but never let Vermont (7-4) tie or take the lead despite several runs by the Catamounts (7-4).
"We talked to our guys about playing from in front and we did that for a while," said Head Coach Tim Miles. "We made a run that pushed the lead to 13, but then Vermont came at us. They are a good team and played well. But credit our kids. We got stops and hit free throws and were able to get a big win."
Walker led five players in double figures as Willis Gardner (17), Jesse Carr (12), Andre McFarland (10) and Travis Franklin (10) all came up big in the win. Franklin added seven rebounds, including a career-high six offensive rebounds, while McFarland chipped in with a season-high nine rebounds.
Walker was solid throughout the game as he posted 16 points in the first half and 10 in the second half, while adding three rebounds and a steal in 25 minutes. He also did not commit a turnover, which was crucial in the tightly contested game.
"Marcus was really aggressive tonight but made good decsions," said Miles. "We would run a play wrong and Marcus would make up for it by hitting a big shot. But later in the game, we ran some plays really well and got him some good looks and he knocked them down."
The Rams are now one step away from a Rainbow Classic title and a possible rematch with in-state rival Colorado. CSU and CU met on Dec. 10 in Boulder with the Buffaloes posting a 75-56 win, in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated.
"Obviously, we are going to play whoever shows up tomorrow," said Miles. "But there is no question who our guys want to play. Let's just say there is not anybody that has Green and Gold in their blood that doesn't want to see us and CU in the championship game tomorrow."
For the first 14 minutes of the first half, the two teams battled back and forth with neither team leading by more than four points. But Walker changed all that as he scored nine straight points for CSU to give the Rams a 16-15 lead, their first lead since 3-2. The Catamounts inched their way back to take a 31-27 lead before Walker and Gardner led the Rams back with a 15-5 run to close the first half. The run gave the Rams a 42-36 lead at halftime. In the final 6 minutes of the opening period, Walker and Gardner combined for 10 points on 5-6 shooting. The first half featured nine ties and 12 lead changes.
Live stats for Tuesday's championship contest are available at http://www.sidearmstats.com/hawaii/mbball/. All men's basketball games are broadcast on the Colorado State Sports Network, including AM 560 KLZ in Denver, and AM 600 KCOL in Northern Colorado.