The Colorado State Rams began the 2018-19 season with an exclamation point by dominating the Colorado Christian Cougars 100-66 at Moby Arena on Wednesday night.
The Rams hit the hardwood running. CSU constructed its first double-digit lead of the night at the 15:39 mark of the first half. CCU never came within 12 points again.
The green and gold never allowed the visiting Cougars to develop a pulse on Wednesday night. Nearly perfect outside shooting and smothering defense allowed CSU to build a 24-3 cushion before eight minutes had even gone by.
The game marked the second consecutive contest against a DII program for the Rams, including last Saturday’s exhibition matchup against CSU-Pueblo. CSU appeared to be significantly more focused and determined on Wednesday night when comparing the two games.
It’s evident that once the “exhibition” tag was removed from the title, the Rams meant nothing but business.
“The thing I was most proud of tonight was our guys were really ready to play,” head coach Niko Medved said. “They were really focused and had great intensity. They really played the way we wanted them to play.”
Let’s take a look at three important takeaways from Medved’s CSU head-coaching debut.
Freshmen Kendle Moore has done everything, and then some, to crack the starting five when UAPB comes to town.
Though the CCU game affected the win column, unlike CSU-Pueblo, the two are similar contests because both featured opponents who pose less of a threat than the average opponent on CSU’s schedule.
For teams with entirely defined roles, games similar to these serve no purpose other than building confidence and giving seldom used bench players some playing time.
However, for the Rams, the CSU-Pueblo and CCU contests supplied a few players with the opportunity to audition for the starting lineup. One of them being freshman guard Kendle Moore.
Moore topped his 19-point exhibition outing on Wednesday. After responding in the manner in which the guard did against CCU, it’s safe to say Moore has at least temporarily earned a starting role
“The veterans on the team took me under their wing as soon as I got here,” Moore said. “Then today they just told me today is that big day, the one that counts. I just went out there and did everything I could to get a (win).”
The freshman began the game firing on all cylinders. He accumulated 13 points in the first six minutes of the game. The guard totaled 26 points on 9-11 shooting in his first official college game, leading the Rams.
Moore received a standing ovation from CSU fans on upon exiting the game after nailing his fourth and final 3-pointer with a few minutes remaining.
“It just felt good (getting the standing ovation),” Moore said. “Robbie (Berwick) threw that nice pass to me. After he threw that I was like yeah I just have to shoot this. And that’s what I did (laughs).”
The Danville, IL product had no issues showcasing his skillset against CCU. Moore created space with his agility and blew by defenders in the paint for easy buckets down low. His outside shot, of course, clicked as well.
Medved praised Moore in the offseason for possessing a noticeable level of maturity. It seems the 5’10″ guard has translated that maturity into immediate success on the court.
“He just doesn’t take a back seat to anybody,” Medved said. “He loves to play, he loves to compete. He’s extremely coachable…He’s got this opportunity early and he’s playing his tail off…He looks pretty comfortable out there and it’s going to be hard to take him off the floor.”
The defensive effort was nearly flawless.
Statistically speaking, CSU’s first half defensive display against the Cougars was almost perfect.
CCU found a way to somewhat work into a rhythm in the second half, at least when comparing the two portions of the game. Still, the first half is a more accurate display of how the Rams performed defensively simply because the outcome was not definite yet.
The Rams held CCU to only 29 points in the first half, 27 of which came from outside the arc. The lone two-point basket converted by the Cougars was outside of the paint. So, CSU impressively held its opponent to zero points in the paint.
“We were talking even at halftime, I could just tell that our intensity on defense is what got us out on that big run,” Bonner said. “We have a good offense, but, at the same time, we have to show people we can defend too. That comes from having that intensity and energy.”
Pairing the Rams’ physicality in the paint with the fact that Medved’s bunch didn’t commit a single personal foul in the opening half makes the early defensive masterpiece one in which CSU will attempt to model all season.
It’s difficult to imagine the green and gold achieving authority in the paint equal to tonight. But, Wednesday’s performance was still encouraging because it reflects a potential increase in physicality. Proper physicality, without fouling, is something the Rams lacked often last season.
Rams had no problems in the revamped offense.
The only downside of Kendle Moore’s brilliant performance is that it overshadows what was an all-around effective offensive night. After all, the Rams scored 100 points in regulation for the first time since putting up 109 on Southwestern Oklahoma State in 2013.
Anthony Masinton-Bonner matched a career-high 22 points while also setting personal bests in both field goals and 3-pointers. Bonner went 8-9 from the floor and 6-7 from downtown.
Lorenzo Jenkins notched a career-high 15 points against CCU as well. Freshman forward Adam Thistlewood (10 points) and Nico Carvacho (14) round out five double-digit scorers for the Rams.
As a team, CSU shot 52.3 percent from the floor and converted 16-31 threes.
The potent offensive barrage indicates that the Rams had no trouble adjusting to Medved’s up-tempo, transition offense.
“A lot of it comes from coach Farokhmanesh, the best shooting coach in America,” Bonner said. “I would say just moving the ball, drills in practice, making the extra pass. We’ve been working on that for the last six to seven months. We are getting used to it and everyone is getting used to where we will be on the floor.”
Doing so seemed like it may have been an issue after the exhibition game. CSU committed 16 turnovers in the game and looked sloppy when attempting to run with the ball.
That was not the case tonight, as the Rams only committed seven turnovers and moved the ball in a variety of ways within Medved’s offense.
“I thought our ball movement was terrific at times,” the head coach said. “21 assists, I love it. I just think it’s fun to play that way. I thought guys were sharing the ball and trying to do the right things.”