Daily Camera (Boulder)
All eyes forward for Rams
CSU wins season finale, looks ahead to MWC tournament
FORT COLLINS >> In a season that no one in or around the Colorado State men’s basketball program expected, the Rams ended their 2022-23 campaign on a high note late Friday night at Moby Arena.
CSU defeated a New Mexico team that beat it handily when the teams met at The Pit in Albuquerque on Dec. 28 — this time forging a 92-84 victory that avenged their Mountain West Conference-opening loss to the Lobos.
The Rams ended their campaign with a 4-3 record in their last seven games, but head to the con- ference tournament with a 14-17 mark including a 6-12 record within the MWC. The conference tourna- ment begins Wednesday in Las Vegas.
Here are a few highlights from Friday’s senior night win over the Lobos and a look ahead to that tournament.
Records and milestones
Prior to Friday night’s game, the Rams honored their four seniors — Nick Bassett, James Moors, John Tonje and Isaiah Stevens.
The latter two made sure their possible final games at Moby Arena were special ones.
Having already broken the men’s and combined program records for career assists, there has been one mark that has eluded Stevens since he began his assault on those records as a freshman.
He entered the season having tied the singlegame assists mark twice and matched it two more times this season. But he never could get that 13th assist in a game to establish a higher program best — until Friday night.
With 4 minutes, 49 seconds to go in the game, a dish to Tavi Jackson for a 3-pointer gave him his 13th and yet another record.
“Finally, sheesh,” Stevens joked postgame. “I want to say I’ve had 12 numerous times, right? Four times in my career. It’s like, ‘Alright, I need somebody to hit a shot for me.’ Last game, I was on John about it. He missed a couple. I’m just messin’, but, it’s all fun love and to be able to get that one, that does hold a special place in my heart.”
Tonje hit a milestone of his own in the game, reaching 1,000 points for his career during a 24-point performance to lead all scorers in the game.
“It means the world to me because I just wanted to be the last guy on the bench on a Division I team,” Tonje said. “I never thought I would hit 1,000. It was a surprise in high school when I got it. For me to hit in college was a surreal moment. I mean, on senior night, my friends are here, my family is here. It was just a surreal moment.”
Staying or going?
Both Stevens and Tonje have a year of eligibility left if they choose to use it. With the conference tournament still on their schedule, neither is ready to announce, or even make a decision on if they will return for that year.
“For me personally, I try not to think about it,” Stevens said. “I know a lot of stuff is moving fast right now, but I’m all the way in with the Rams and until the ball stops bouncing for us, I’ll make that decision for myself whenever the time is right. But I am trying to go out here and try to win some games, maybe mess up some people’s seasons and hopefully prolong ours.”
Tonje added one word at the end of Stevens’ response — “Retweet.”
CSU head coach Niko Medved said he will be as patient as anyone with the decisions made those two players.
“It’s their decision as a player, obviously,” he said. “Would I love to have them back? Absolutely. So, I think that those things, it’s one thing at a time. Let’s go to Vegas next week and get after it and then when the season ends, we’ll move on to the next. But I think it is fair for those guys to be able to think first, about what’s next for them. I think both of them would look at coming back next year is a great option as well.”
With their win Friday night, the Rams improved their seeding for the tournament, most importantly avoiding being the No. 11 seed in the 11-team field. They also avoided being the ninth and 10th seeds.
Depending on the outcome of Saturday night’s Unlv-nevada game, the Rams will learn their fate. If UNLV wins, the Rams will be the No. 8 seed. If Nevada wins, CSU will be No. 7.
The Rams will likely play either Fresno State or Air Force to open the tournament.
They hope Friday’s win will give them some momentum and confidence heading into what should be an exciting four days of games at the Thomas & Mack Center, the site of CSU’S most thrilling game of the season — an overtime win over UNLV in which Stevens somehow banked in a long 3-pointer to tie the game at the end of regulation and then hit the game-winning 3 in overtime.
The Rams have shown at times, Friday being one of them, that they can play with anyone in the conference. And with their recent successes — home victories over Wyoming and New Mexico and a road win at Fresno State to go along with several close losses to some of the top teams in the conference, the Rams hope to continue their current level of play in Las Vegas.
“We’ve proven that when we are healthy and connected and playing, that we can play at a high level,” Medved said. “When you are a player and coach, it is the greatest time of the year. You have so many memories of this time of year and March. There’s no better time to play your best. We’ve got to go out there and we’ve got to be the aggressors.
“We’ll take a couple of days off, get in two good days of practice and then go down to Vegas and take it one at a time. Hopefully tonight was a confidence booster so we can go play well down there.”
The players just want to prolong their season as long as they can. They know their potential and what happens when they play well.
“I’m excited to get to Vegas, man,” Stevens said. “I want to go out there and see what we can do.”