On a night when they couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean, the CSU Rams ran, passed, guarded, and rebounded their way to a famous victory over their ACC counterparts.
If you read my preview yesterday, I made one very simple statement. That is was a very winnable game if the Rams could get the ball consistently into the paint without turning it over.
And that they did as they outscored their taller and more athletic opponents 40-34 in the paint, recording 13 assists against only 10 turnovers.
The Rams struggled out of the gate, falling behind 7-0 as the Wolfpack were forcing them into tough looks on one end and scoring inside on the other. The Pack’s 4/5 combo of DJ Funderburk and Manny Bates was giving them fits.
The regular substitutions were made at the 13:30 mark and all of a sudden the Rams were gaining some traction as John Tonje, Dischon Thomas, and PJ Byrd began to tighten things up defensively. A 7-0 run was enough to launch the Rams into a short-lived 12-11 lead.
Their early poor shooting from the perimeter continued throughout the half. Normally reliable Adam Thistlewood was 0-6 and the team 1-15. And yet they only trailed 28-25 at the halftime buzzer.
No time to panic.
The halftime message from Coach Niko Medved – “We’re right here. We’re right where we want to be. We’re going to play better in the second half.”
And that they did, as they came out with purpose on both ends of the floor. High intensity defense forcing turnovers and run outs. Simple offensive sets featuring Isaiah Stevens working screen and rolls from the wing leading to buckets at the rim. Connected effort on both ends.
“Their energy level was tremendous in the second half.”, said State’s Manny Bates, and it was enough to propel the Rams into a small lead within the first five minutes.
Both teams scratched and clawed back and forth until a 7-0 burst pushed the Rams into a 55-47 lead.
Home free right?
Not so fast as a pair of three point trips quickly brought the Pack back and it would be a nail biter the rest of the way.
The exact kind of game you have grown comfortable watching this season. A time normally reserved for Isaiah Stevens. But this played out differently as teammates James Moors, Kendle Moore, and David Roddy were the ones making the plays down the stretch.
The Rams led 63-61 and NC State had the ball in the final 30 seconds with an opportunity to tie or win.
The Wolfpack ran a play that was different than anything CSU had scouted but the Rams were ready. What appeared to be a clean look for three went by the wayside as CSU’s John Tonje fought his way over a screen and forced a contested look. The ball careened off the rim, David Roddy grabbed the board, the Wolfpack fouled and fouled and fouled, finally putting Kendle Moore on the charity stripe where he professionally iced the game.
The points came from the usual suspects. Isaiah Stevens led the way with 18 points and 4 assists. David Roddy would finish with 16 along with 11 rebounds. Kendle Moore also scored 16, most of which came on fast and furious whirling, spinning layups.
But today it was simply about 9 guys playing Ram basketball doing what it takes to win
Roddy Takes Another Step
As mentioned earlier, NC State offered a tremendous challenge on the inside. 6’10” power forward DJ Funderburk and 6’11” center Manny Bates, chosen to the ACC All-Defensive first team. The Rams knew going in that it was going to be a tough puzzle to solve.
As Roddy said post-game about playing against such a difficult 4/5, “It was a different dynamic that anything in the Mountain West. They are long and athletic.”
His 16 and 11 may look a lot like his season averages but they havent come any harder than tonight. He saved his best for last, a spectacular one-footed fallaway from the free-throw line, making space with a little bump on Funderburk.
— Colorado State Men’s Basketball (@CSUMBasketball) March 26, 2021
Tonje’s Defensive Work Inside and Out
I already highlighted the effort of John Tonje on the final defensive sequence. That was work on the perimeter. But until then he had done massive work on the inside as well.
DJ Funderburk was in double figures early in the game, finishing the first half with 11. He would finish the game with 13.
When asked about how he was shut down post-game, Funderburk replied, “From what I could remember, I think they started to put [John Tonje] on me. I think they just told him to front me the whole time. That’s what it felt like. Every time we came down, regardless of what the play was, he was trying his hardest to play his role and front me. He did a good job of that and made sure the guards couldn’t see that I was open a few times.”
Putting the Rams’ Defensive Effort Into Perspective
So you know I love advanced stats and there is no better side that kenpom.com for that.
The Rams’ defense held North Carolina State to an 88.7 Offensive Efficiency Rating. It was the Wolfpack’s third worst offensive performance of the season, trailing only a game with Duke and a game with Saint Louis.
Another perspective. The Rams defensive performance was better than that of Virginia in their two games with the Wolfpack. Defending National Champion Virginia. A program known for their rock solid defense.