LAS VEGAS — Colorado State’s Isaiah Stevens hit a floater in the lane with 2.7 seconds left and the Rams held on to defeat Fresno State 67-65 in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Despite squandering a double-digit lead in the final eight minutes, CSU (15-17) advances to face No. 1 seed San Diego State at 1 p.m. MT on Thursday.
“Survive and advance,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said. “Somehow we did here today. I don’t think we managed a lot of the end of the game well. Give Fresno a lot of credit for staying with it there. But we managed the very end of the game very, very well and didn’t panic when they took the lead late. We got the stops when we needed and then Isaiah made some big-time plays like he always does.”
The Rams led by as many as 12 points in the second half, taking a 60-48 lead after a pair of free throws by John Tonje with 7:47 left in the game.
A five-point possession gave the Bulldogs some momentum as they made a 3-pointer and then got a pair of free throws from a dead-ball foul on the Rams. That made it 60-55 with 6:51 to go.
“We just go play by play,” Tonje said. “No one lost their mind in that situation. We just stayed composed and kept playing.”
From there, the Bulldogs used a 10-2 run to take their first lead of the second half at 65-62 with 1:46 to go after they made all three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer attempt.
With 56 seconds left, Stevens made a driving layup and then completed the three-point play after he was fouled to tie the game at 65. Fresno State missed a jumper with 29 seconds left and Isaiah Rivera grabbed the rebound with 26 seconds to go.
Stevens calmly walked the ball down the court, held it at the top of the key until the clock was under five seconds. He drove and hit the winning shot with just under three seconds to go.
“In a situation like that, well, one we prepare for these moments almost every day after practice,” Stevens said. “We had a set we go to pretty often. We were able to execute with me and John in there. It feels great, especially when you are able to get a win off it. I am just super excited that we get to continue playing tomorrow.”
Fresno State threw a long inbound pass and called timeout on its end of the court but turned the ball over trying to inbound the ball following the timeout. CSU was able to get the ball in and held it as the final second ticked off the clock.
Tonje led the Rams with 20 points. Stevens had 19 and Patrick Cartier had 12. CSU shot 43.8% from the field to Fresno State’s 40.7%.
CSU made 18 of 24 free throws while the Bulldogs converted nine of 10.
In the first half, the Rams and Bulldogs traded punches until CSU was able to make a run near the end of the period. After Fresno State took a 26-25 lead with 5:44 to go before halftime, CSU closed the half with an 11-3 run to take a 36-29 lead into halftime.
Tonje led the Rams with 11 points in the first half. Isaiah Rivera, Cartier and Stevens all had seven apiece.
Now CSU gets the top seed in the tournament in the quarterfinals. CSU lost both games to San Diego State this season, falling 82-76 in overtime at Moby Arena and 77-58 in San Diego.
“We’ve got to be physical,” Tonje said. “We have to be ready to go tomorrow. We can enjoy this one today, but we’ve got to move on to tomorrow pretty quick.”
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