Colorado State, Wagner win First Four games to advance in tournament

Pictured are CSU and UVA Men’s Basketball teams facing off at the University of Dayton Arena. Photo courtesy of Olivia Shirk for Flyer News.

Gabriel Ward | Contributing Writer

DAYTON, Ohio – The Colorado State Rams defeated Virginia, 67-42, in a Midwest Region First Four game at UD Arena on Tuesday night to send the winner to play the Texas Longhorns in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday.

Joel Scott led the Rams with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Nique Clifford added 17 and 10. 

The game featuring the two No. 10 seeds was defined by one thing: the lack of Virginia offense. The Cavaliers reached 14 points after two free throws by Reece Beekman with 9:20 remaining in the first half. At that point, the game was still within reach, with the Rams leading 18-14. But after the shots, the Virginia offense would disappear. 

Colorado State would go on a 9-0 run to close the half and extend their lead to 27-14.

Virginia, who has the slowest offense in the country based on possessions per game, had their third-lowest scoring game of the season.

The dominating performance by the Rams, mixed with the perceived underestimation of Mountain West Conference teams, led to some questions about the motivation that MWC teams are bringing to the court.

“I don’t know if it is personal. I mean, listen, we got an opportunity to play here. It is what it is, and our goal was to not only get here but also advance, so like I said before, we are a 10 seed in the tournament, and we just get to play one more game,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said when asked why this NCAA tournament is so personal for Mountain West teams.

The Rams are one of six MWC teams selected for this year’s tournament; however, they are not the only ones playing in the First Four, as Boise State will face Colorado in another matchup of No. 10 seeds tonight (Wednesday). 

In Tuesday night’s first contest, the Howard University Bison missed an open jumper from the 3-point line as time ran out in a game but losing effort to Wagner, 71-68. The Seahawks advanced to take on No. 1-seed North Carolina on Thursday, in Charlotte. 

As for Colorado State in the Tuesday night finale, the second half continued to be all Rams, as Clifford would hit a turnaround jump shot and was fouled at 17:01 left in regulation to extend the Colorado State lead to 21 points. 

The scoring drought that started with 9:20 left in the first half would finally come to a close as Beekman would make a jumper to cut the Rams lead to 19.

Virginia would try to get back into the game as Jacob Groves made a three-pointer with 10:03 left in the game to cut the CSU lead to 15. However, the Rams would immediately come back with a three-pointer of their own by Patrick Cartier to quiet the Virginia fans in the arena.

The Cavaliers would never come within 15 points again as the Rams dominated the rest of the game to win by 25. 

When asked about winning by 25 points, coach Medved said, “I never would have imagined that. I knew our guys were ready to compete. They just came out with such an unbelievable effort tonight. They just kept grinding out possessions. I thought as the game went on in the second half, we just executed better, break up our defense, and did just a great job.”

Colorado State now has to quickly prepare for Texas, led by Oral Roberts transfer and 2021 March Madness star Max Abmas.

“Hey, we are going to get out on a flight here tonight late, probably 1:30 in the morning, and we will land in Charlotte,” Medved said. “We’ll obviously watch Texas film on the plane, and then we will get up and do it again. We are excited for the opportunity. Our guys have been looking forward to this all year, and we will be ready for Texas on Thursday.”

Tipoff for the Rams first-round game vs. Texas in Charlotte is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

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