FORT COLLINS — Trailing by 11 at halftime to Gardner-Webb, the new-look Colorado State men’s basketball team wasn’t going to go down quietly in its home opener Monday at Moby Arena.
And Isaiah Rivera made sure the Rams left the arena winners.
With new faces up and down its roster, shots that didn’t fall in the first half began to fall in the second and became more frequent as the final period unfolded and with the score tied in the closing seconds, the junior guard came through for CSU.
Gardner-Webb tied the game with three free-throws with seven seconds remaining, but Rivera nailed a jumper from the top of the key with just under a second left to give the Rams a season-opening 65-63 victory.
“We just work on end-of-game situations a lot in practice,” Rivera said. “When we do get in that moment, we know what to do. We don’t panic. The last game-winner I hit, high school, same spot. Seeing it go through the net, there’s a lot of things going through your head.”
Despite being down by double digits late in the first half and at the break, the Rams stormed back in the second period, taking an 11-point lead at one point, but they couldn’t keep the Bulldogs from making a run at the end of regulation.
Gardner-Webb missed a 3-pointer with 7.3 seconds remaining, but the Rams were called for a foul on the shot and the Bulldogs made all three free-throws to tie the game at 63-63.
Then Rivera nailed the game-winner.
“I was really proud of the way our guys found a way to win here tonight,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said. “I knew it was going to be a tough game and I give Gardner-Webb a lot of credit. Our guys really regrouped at halftime. They came out and they played defense and took care of the basketball.”
Trailing 36-25, the Rams came out of the locker room and opened the second half with a 7-2 run. A 3-pointer by John Tonje cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 38-32 with 17:11 on the clock.
Minutes later, another 3-pointer by Tonje cut the Gardner-Webb lead to 40-38 with 13:08 left. The Rams got even closer when Patrick Cartier made a hook shot to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to one at 41-40.
Just over a minute later, the Rams took their first lead of the game at 45-44 on a 3-pointer by Joe Palmer with 10:19 to go. With under five minutes remaining, Cartier nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Rams ahead 56-48.
The Rams went up 61-50 with 3:31 remaining, before the Bulldogs began to battle back.
“We have to do a better job when we have that lead late,” Medved said. “There are a lot of teachable moments from this game.”
Tonje led the Rams with 16 points. Cartier had 12 and Rivera 11.
The Rams never led in the first half, falling behind 17-10 with just under 10 minutes left in the opening period. Colorado State scored the next six points to pull within one at 17-16 on a 3-pointer by Tavi Jackson with 8:20 remaining in the first half.
CSU never got closer than a point to the Bulldogs in the first half. When Tonje hit a 3-pointer to pull CSU within 20-19, that would be as close as the Rams would get.
The Rams trailed by 13 late in the first half, but a jumper by Rivera at the buzzer made it an 11-point game and CSU trailed 36-25 at halftime.
In the first half, the Rams shot just 45% from the field to Gardner-Webb’s 52%. CSU turned ball over 11 times to the Bulldogs’ eight.
Rivera led the Rams in the first half with seven points. Jackson and Tonje each had five.
CSU continue its three-game season-opening homestand Friday when the Rams host Southeastern Louisiana.
Colorado St. 65, Gardner-Webb 63GARDNER-WEBB (0-1)Dufeal 2-3 0-0 5, Reid 3-7 2-3 8, Aldridge 3-10 0-1 8, Nicholas 3-8 4-7 10, Selden 5-10 0-0 11, Stieber 2-4 0-0 4, Soumaoro 3-7 3-3 12, Williams 1-2 0-0 2, Badmus 0-0 0-0 0, Robinson 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 23-52 10-16 63.COLORADO ST. (1-0)Moors 2-3 2-2 6, Hebb 1-3 0-0 2, Lake 1-3 2-2 5, Rivera 4-9 3-4 11, Tonje 4-11 5-8 16, Jackson 3-4 0-0 7, Cartier 5-7 1-4 12, Palmer 2-4 1-1 6, Evans 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-44 14-21 65.
Halftime–Gardner-Webb 36-25. 3-Point Goals—Gardner-Webb 7-22 (Soumaoro 3-6, Aldridge 2-6, Dufeal 1-1, Selden 1-4, Williams 0-1, Nicholas 0-2, Stieber 0-2), Colorado St. 7-13 (Tonje 3-5, Cartier 1-1, Jackson 1-1, Palmer 1-1, Lake 1-3, Hebb 0-1, Rivera 0-1). Fouled Out—Reid. Rebounds—Gardner-Webb 27 (Reid 6), Colorado St. 27 (Rivera 7). Assists—Gardner-Webb 8 (Stieber 6), Colorado St. 10 (Lake, Jackson 3). Total Fouls—Gardner-Webb 21, Colorado St. 19.
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