FORT WORTH, TEXAS –– Those clamoring for an AP Top 25 ranking for the Colorado State men’s basketball team may soon get their wish.
A week after running St. Mary’s out of Moby Arena to move within one spot of the Top 25, the Rams submitted another statement win Saturday afternoon, beating Mississippi State 66-63 in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Classic at Dickies Arena.
“It’s huge. Mississippi State is a great team, has a great history and is an SEC team,” said junior David Roddy, who finished with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting. “They brought new challenges to us with their size and length. So it’s gonna be a huge win down the road.”
With the win, the Rams (10-0) now represent one of only seven unbeaten squads in Division I men’s basketball. And this last one did not come easy.
While struggling with turnovers and 3-point shooting for a significant portion of Saturday’s game, the Rams found themselves playing from behind most of the way.
At the 6:16 mark of the second half, CSU trailed 57-49 in a game the Bulldogs led for 32 minutes. That’s when coach Niko Medved’s group flipped a game-changing switch, knocking down six straight jumpers as part of a 17-2 run to jump ahead 66-59 with 2:23 remaining.
“These guys just don’t panic,” Medved said. “Guys just come up with huge plays when we need them and have a lot of belief in each other and what we’re doing. They just keep playing and playing and eventually, something’s gonna break.”
Added Roddy, “It’s just a testament to our emotional toughness. Having that maturity in our team is huge, and it’s something that will win us a lot of games like it just did.”
In a game of runs, the Bulldogs tallied 10 consecutive points to grab an 11-point edge early in the first half, and Coach Ben Howland’s team went on an 11-0 burst to take a 42-33 lead early in the second half.
Still, the Rams enjoyed the last laugh. Roddy and Dischon Thomas flushed fast-break dunks on consecutive possessions with less than five minutes remaining, providing CSU’s first lead, 60-59, since early in the second half.
Isaiah Stevens, who scuffled offensively most of the game, then sunk a crucial 3-pointer before Kendle Moore converted from deep as part of a gritty performance that saw him play through a dislocated finger.
“I thought Kendle Moore was terrific,” Medved said. “You guys didn’t see Kendle Moore’s finger. He dislocated it in the first half. I looked at it once and couldn’t look at it again. Then he comes back in for the second half, and I thought his defense was terrific. He made some huge shots for us. I thought he was just a warrior.”
Stevens’ and Moore’s 3s put the Rams ahead 66-59 with 2:23 left. But the Bulldogs continued battling, pulling within three before missing a trio of game-tying 3-point attempts in the final 60 seconds –– including a clean top-of-the-key look as the horn sounded.
“That’s a really well-coached, tough team,” Medved said. “So our guys just showed a ton of heart. It was not a pretty game. But we don’t need style points. We found a way to do just enough to come away with a win, and that win is gonna feel pretty good at the end of the year.”
Overall, CSU shot 47.2% from the floor while limiting the Bulldogs to 33.9% shooting. Following a rough first half, the Rams knocked down 7-of-15 second-half 3-pointers to finish 42.3% from deep.
Moore contributed 13 points, while Stevens and senior Adam Thistelwood added 8 apiece.
Up next, CSU again travels to Dickies Arena for a neutral site affair against Tulsa in the Hoop Hype XL College Basketball Showcase on Dec. 18.
“(Mississippi State) has visions of going to the NCAA Tournament and contending in the SEC,” Medved said. “We have those kind of visions, too. We scheduled these games and knew we had to win some of them. So far, guys have been able to step up to the challenge.”
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