Ram Hoops Scoop: Shaking off a funk with big win at St. Mary’s

Throughout the 2022-23 basketball season, Colorado State senior guard John Tonje will share his viewpoints on the team’s performance in recent games, preview upcoming games, and more, here in Ram Hoops Scoop. Learn more here on how to contribute to RamNation’s NIL fund for John, fellow basketball NIL partner Tavi Jackson, and other student athlete partners.

First, congrats on a huge win at St. Mary’s! Not many people gave CSU a shot in this game, on the road against the No. 11 team in NCAA NET rankings and being shorthanded without key contributors Jalen Lake and Tavi Jackson. How were you guys able to overcome that and get a much-needed win on the road?

We overcame because we knew it would take everything we got, and I feel that we really left it all out there. Obviously being shorthanded without Tavi and Lake meant we had to give that much more to make up for the big-time contributors we missed out on vs. St. Mary’s. We were all there for each other and I’m very proud of the team effort.

Some are calling this the “guttiest performance by a Ram squad during the Niko Medved Era.” In your fourth season here, would you agree?

“Guttiest performance” isn’t too far off! I’ve played St. Mary’s three times now in my career, along with James Moors and Isaiah Stevens, so as the older leaders we emphasized to the other guys the level of physicality it would take to beat a team like this. The mindset that we showed from the jump ball was exciting to see from this group, and there’s no doubt this was one of the most courageous games we’ve played.

You played this same team two years ago on the road when they were a Top 15 KenPom.com opponent (right now they’re 22). The Rams managed only 33 points total in that game, with the likes of David Roddy on the court. What did you guys do better this time around on that same court against a team that recently dealt San Diego State their first loss of the season and played No. 1-ranked Houston tough?

Sophomore year we played them as our second game back from our Covid pause and were still getting into the groove as a team. We weren’t making sounds plays or helping one another offensively and defensively much from what I remember. This time around we played for each other and constantly made up for each other and had one another’s back.

Defense had been lacking recently. However, Sunday night, the Rams’ defense was suffocating. You held the Gaels to 40% shooting from the field and forced 16 turnovers. What was the difference? 

Defense is definitely a mentality. Especially for not being the most gifted team athletically, we have to focus that much more on the defensive end. We really bought in, and I’m very proud of the intensity we had.

I’m sure the losses to UNC and CU were as equally crushing for you players as they were the fans. Fans were wondering if the Rams had lost the identity they had formed over recent years. How were you able to shake off those disappointing games off and get your groove back Sunday night?

Win or lose we have been trained to flush it and focus on the game in front of us. That’s just what we did. The past rarely helps the future as far as dwelling on games in a season. We were disappointed, of course, but there’s no room for moping around when facing an opponent like St. Mary’s.

You had a big impact on the game with 17 points. You went through a bit of a shooting funk for a few games, but got your stroke back, going 6 of 11 last night, including 2 of 4 from three, coming off a 7-for-8 night (5-for-5 from three) against Peru State. How do you keep your confidence when you’ve encountered a few tough shooting nights in a row?

I try to keep a short memory when it comes to shooting. There’s no reason to dwell on a bad shooting night because I’m blessed to have a new opportunity every game and that’s something I’ve learned to not take for granted. A couple late night trips to the gym is always a quick remedy for low confidence for me.

Who else do you point to last night as being key contributors in the win?

Baylor Hebb comes to mind for me. The way he competed and battled late in the game was huge in us getting the win. He brought it and did not lack aggressiveness on the defensive end. We fed off of his energy late, and he was a big key to the win. Also, fouling out in 15 minutes of play goes to show how hard he played.

Now you have another big game against USC in Phoenix, AZ. They’re a 9-3 team from the Pac-12, most recently with a win over Auburn (NET: No. 23) Sunday. What’s on the scouting report and what do you need to do to beat them?

We are going to have to stop them in transition and minimize their fast-break points. We also have to compete on catches and make sure we flow on offense, regardless of pressure. We will also have to key in on senior guard Boogie Ellis, who is coming off of a 25+ point night.

What will you do with your few days off/Christmas?

I will go home to Omaha for a quick trip to enjoy time with family and friends, which is much appreciated in season. I will also make a couple trips to my favorite restaurant, Pepper Jax!

RamNation wishes you good luck vs. USC and a very Merry Christmas, John!


About our student athlete

John is a senior leader out of Omaha, Neb. and one of the top scorers on the team. He is considered one of the founding building blocks that has turned around the men’s basketball program. He is a major in Business; Finance and Real Estate; Business Administration. He also has an interest in fashion design and is starting his own clothing line. You can read all his “Ram Hoops Scoop” features here

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I wish the team the best after two rough games along the front range, and then a gritty win in Miraga CA.
    I’ve been to a game in FOCO and you guys are entertaining; plan on more games in FOCO after the 1st of the year. The best to you against USC; I’ll be watching on the TV and GO RAMS!
    Craig Chambers ’70’
    Arvada CO .

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