LARAMIE, Wyo. — Kendle Moore had clear directions to take the ball and go.
The Colorado State guard’s most unguardable skill is his speed, especially when the defense isn’t set to defend it.
So CSU coach Niko Medved told Moore that he wasn’t going to call a timeout if Wyoming scored to tie the game.
Sure enough, Wyoming guard Marcus Williams hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to tie the contest up, and Moore immediately grabbed the in-bounds past and raced down the court.
He blew by the Wyoming defense and put in a tough layup with 6 seconds left. Wyoming then missed a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt and CSU escaped.
Rams 74, Wyoming 72.
“Far from a work of art, obviously, tonight,” CSU coach Niko Medved said. “It wasn’t pretty in a lot of ways, but you know what, you look back on seasons and we knew it was going to be really tough here tonight and somehow we found a way.”
Here are three thoughts on the key Mountain West road win for CSU.
Moore handles winning shot
End-game and late-clock situations usually fall in the hands of CSU star sophomore Isaiah Stevens. Not on Thursday, as he had to sit out the final 3:50 after fouling out.
The Rams had some success in the late-game situations without their main ball-handler but also some obvious struggles.
CSU (13-4, 10-3 Mountain West) had turned a nine-point second-half deficit into a lead. The Rams went up by five with 46 seconds left after a couple well-executed plays.
Then the wheels came off.
Hunter Maldonado scored and somehow fouled before hitting the free throw. David Roddy then turned the ball over on the in-bounds pass, but CSU escaped that mistake with a missed Wyoming 3-pointer.
Moore then hit just one of two free throws to keep Wyoming in it. That led to the tying three from Williams.
Enter Moore and his excellent, game-winning drive.
“Coach said ‘if they score, get the ball, go to the basket and make a play’ and that’s what I tried to do,” Moore said.
CSU was fortunate that Kwane Marble’s would-be game-winning shot went just long as the defense dropped off too far and allowed him a too-open look from 3-point range.
Role players come up big
It was arguably the toughest game of Stevens’ young career. He played just 29 minutes because of the fouls, scored six, had four rebounds, two assists and five turnovers before fouling out.
The Rams showed poor body language at times in the first half and trailed at the break by six.
John Tonje arguably led the comeback with some aggressive offensive play. A 3-pointer tied the game at 56 as the Rams clawed back into contention and he finished with a career-high 16 points.
P.J. Byrd had to man the point late with Stevens out, and he did a serviceable job. Isaiah Rivera also played well in the first half.
“Some guys just stepped up like crazy,” Medved said.
In addition to Moore’s late-winner, his roommate Adam Thistlewood was big when needed.
His 3-pointer from the wing gave the Rams a 69-66 lead that provided just enough cushion for the final sequences to allow the Rams to hold on for the win.
Roddy finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
Ugly, but a win
Everyone in the CSU basketball program knew a trip to Laramie was going to be a heck of a battle. CSU rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to win at Arena-Auditorium last season, and then the Cowboys knocked CSU out of the Mountain West tournament a year ago.
The warning signs were everywhere.
But CSU still struggled throughout this game. The turnovers abated a bit in the second half, yet CSU still finished with 18. It’s a worrying trend.
Yet, it’s still a win. Good teams must find a way to win ugly sometimes and this one absolutely qualified.
“Everybody has those days, but like we talked about in the locker room, it’s the (good) teams that can push through and come out victorious in games like these,” Moore said.
The Rams entered the day at No. 44 in NET rankings, a strong spot for NCAA Tournament consideration. Wyoming was No. 189 and a loss could have put a decent dent in CSU’s hopes.
That made this a vital escape.
“Hey man, we found a way to win and we’re not giving it back,” Medved said.
The job isn’t done yet, though. The Rams return to Laramie at 4 p.m. Saturday and you can bet Wyoming will feel like it owes CSU one.
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