LAS VEGAS — At the final buzzer, Colorado State guard Isaiah Stevens strutted on the perimeter of the court, hand raised above his head to defiantly say buh-bye to broken-hearted Utah State fans, silent in their grief after an upset bid by the Aggies was denied.
“See ya! See ya!” shouted Stevens, after the Rams escaped with a 53-51 victory in the Mountain West tournament.
The Rams were not particularly good on this Thursday night. But sometimes swagger is enough to win.
The winning basket was a layup by guard Chandler Jacobs with three seconds remaining in the second half, a wide open and remarkably easy shot made possible by a sweet pass from Stevens, who worked his dribble until the Utah State defense had no choice except to chase him.
Stevens made the Aggies pay. Then he reminded everybody in the Thomas & Mack Center who was the boss at crunch time.
“It was a slugfest from start to finish,” said Stevens, who led the Rams in points (14), rebounds (seven) and assists (five).
The bigger the moment, the more he relishes the tension.
“It screams March Madness,” Stevens said.
With a 25-4 record, the swagger of Colorado State, ranked No. 23 in the Associated Press poll, is well-deserved and hard-earned.
Although David Roddy richly deserved to be named the Mountain West’s player of the year, Stevens is the man that brings the hungry-like-a-wolf look in his eyes that instills the belief in Colorado State that it can overcome any challenge on the court and there’s absolutely no reason to fear any foe.
The confidence of Stevens is so big, it can fill a locker room. And it’s never more essential than in a game like this, when Utah State was playing with house money, with nothing to lose.
How important can the bravado of Stevens be when it’s a one possession game in the final minute and there are sweaty palms on the Colorado State bench?
“It’s everything. You’ve got to have it,” CSU coach Niko Medved said.
The Rams trailed 47-46 with a little more than three minutes remaining in the second half, after Utah State forward Justin Bean followed his own miss with an offensive rebound and a put-back gently kissed off the glass.
With the outcome very much in doubt, Stevens and Roddy combined to score five of the Rams’ final seven points, including a jumper from the top of the key that Stevens banked off the glass without a shrug, much less an apology.
That’s pure swagger. At winning time, the competitor that refuses to lose usually prevails.
“Isaiah has been that player who has come in here since Day 1 of his freshman year and has been that guy. He loves it. This is what he has dreamed about his whole life,” Medved said.
“So he’s not coming in here nervous (in a big game). He’s coming in here saying: ‘Let’s go, let’s play, let’s compete.’ He has always brought that to our program. You can’t win without it.”
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