On a night where the CSU men’s basketball team was missing two starters and had a third hobbled, it would have been easy to let the Nevada run away with Tuesday’s game.
The Rams didn’t give in, but despite a great effort they couldn’t chase down the Wolf Pack from behind, as CSU trailed by as much as 13 in the second half before staging a rally that cut the Nevada lead to just four in the final minute, before falling 82-76.
Every time it appeared that the Rams had crawled back into the contest, the Wolf Pack answered with a clutch basket that kept them at bay, allowing Nevada to hold on for the win.
“It was frustrating. We played hard, but they had to shoot about 80 percent,” said CSU sophomore forward Travis Franklin, overstating the fact that Nevada shot 58.6 percent in the second half. “They hit a lot of clutch shots, and that’s why they kept the lead.”
The Rams jumped to a 7-0 lead right out of the gate, but quickly saw Nevada take control of the game, as the Wolf Pack led 38-31 at the half.
CSU trailed 76-63 with just 4:33 remaining when sophomore Josh Simmons started the Rams on the comeback trail with a 3-pointer. Guard Marcus Walker, who was held in check for much of the game, then scored six straight points to pull the Rams to within four with 1:49 remaining.
That was as close as the Rams could get though, as CSU couldn’t connect from long range, and Nevada sealed the win thanks to Armon Johnson’s two buckets and a Joey Shaw tip-in of a Johnson miss.
“I am very proud of our kids, having the effort and the will to get back into the contest,” Miles said. “I just wish there was two more minutes.”
Johnson and Shaw carried Nevada with a set of career high nights, scoring 23 and 21 points respectively. Johnson gashed the Rams with a deadly midrange jumper, shooting 10-17 in the game, while Shaw was 3-5 from 3-point range.
The fact that Nevada shot 51.7 percent on the game didn’t surprise Miles, as he said that Nevada, who had been struggling shooting the ball all season, was due to break out.
The Rams played zone for much of the game, going away from Miles’ favored man-to-man defense, and he thought it worked for much of the game but that he knew it was a gamble.
“That is what happens when you roll the dice brother. Sometimes you get snake eyes, and sometimes you roll sevens,” he said.
The Rams were without starting guards Willis Gardner (sprained ankle) and Harvey Perry (Achilles’ Tendon), while forward Andy Ogide was limited by a sprained right toe, as he scored just seven points. The injuries left the Rams shorthanded but two players off the bench stepped up.
Franklin, a junior college transfer who had scored just six points in his career entering the game, had a breakout night for CSU, scoring 18 points in just 13 minutes before fouling out.
“He was just killing us out there,” said Nevada head coach Mark Fox.
Simmons, a sophomore guard, also set a career high, slashing through the Nevada defense for 17 points while adding 7 rebounds, and he said it was Nevada’s players that got him fired up.
“The other team was doing a lot of talking, and when people talk to me it gets me fired up, so I wanted to prove them wrong,” Simmons said.
The Rams don’t play again until Saturday when they travel to Boise State, and they know that they have plenty of work to do to get ready.
“There are no days off at CSU. We have film tomorrow and then practice,” Simmons said. “Boise is a good team, in a tough arena, and we have to look forward and prepare hard for them.”
Men’s basketball beat writer Matthew Pucak can be reached at email@example.com.