The Colorado State Rams men's basketball team hosted the Georgia State Panthers in a game between two solid mid-major basketball programs. Georgia State entered the game at 1-1 on the season, coming off of an 81-58 loss to the 14th ranked Iowa State Cyclones. The Rams entered the matchup at 1-0 with a dominant 83-66 over the Montana Grizzlies. After a back and forth battle, the Rams ran away with the game late in the second half to record an 80-70 win over the Panthers.
The Rams knew it was going to be a difficult early season game against the Panthers, who went 25-9 a season ago. The Panthers are led by wingman R.J. Hunter and guard Ryan Harrow who showed off why Georgia State has one of the better backcourts in the country. Georgia State also has Louisville transfer Kevin Ware in their starting lineup who is famous for his ugly broken leg injury. Hunter was the Sun Belt Conference's Player of the Year last season while also earning AP All-America consideration.
The Rams started the game with a Stanton Kidd three pointer to give the Rams a 3-0 lead. The Rams struggled early however, only scoring 3 points in the first 4 minutes of the game. Due to poor offensive rhythm and bad passing by Colorado State, the Panthers led by as many as 12 points in the first half before a late run by the Rams cut the lead to 5 points, entering half time trailing 34-29. Guard Gian Clavell led the Rams with 8 first half points, while Kidd struggled in the first half going 0-5 after his sinking his first three point attempt of the contest. Harrow led the Panthers at the half with 14 points while Hunter added 13 points.
The Rams suffered a big blow early in the second half when guard Daniel Bejarano had to exit the game at the 18 minute mark with 2 quick second half fouls, which put him at 4 total fouls. However, the Rams were able to close the gap early in the second half with a Kidd three point shot and a John Gillon drive and score with an ‘And 1' to give Colorado State a 41-40 lead at the 16 minute mark of the second half.
After struggling in the first half to find any open looks near the basket, the Ram's offense was able score more efficiently near the basket in the second half to help spark their offense. The Ram defense tightened up in the second as they prevented open shots for Hunter and made it difficult for Harrow and Ware to drive to the basket.
Problems for Colorado State occurred when the Rams got into foul trouble early in the second half near the 10 minute mark, allowing the Panthers to enter the bonus and get easy trips to the foul line. The Ram's foul trouble forced big man Tiel Daniels to have to sit for a majority of the second half, forcing Kidd to have to move down to a power forward position where he is undersized.
The turning point of the game came near the 5 minute mark when Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter received a technical foul after he believed Harrow was fouled while driving for a layup. Harrow's layup brought the score to a 62-60 Colorado State lead, but the 2 technical foul free throws for Bejarano sparked a 14-0 run for the Rams as they started to run away with the game with under 3 minutes left in the second half.
The Panthers were able to get a few trips to the free throw line and played good press defense to get the lead down to 11 at 78-67, but the Ram's big run was just too much for Georgia State to overcome. With Georgia State relying on fouling in last minute, Colorado State made half of their free throws to give the Rams an 80-70 victory.
A big second half, both offensively and defensively, was the reason why the Rams were able to overcome a 12 point Georgia State lead. Heavy pressure on Hunter and lockdown defense on Harrow forced the Panthers to unsuccessfully look for other scoring options. Even though the Rams got into foul trouble early, the Panthers only shot 47 percent from the free throw line. The Panthers, who were sinking three point shots early, ended the night 6-16 from long range for a 37.5 percent mark.
The Rams on the other hand were able to go 21-27 from the free throw line for 77.8 percent, while going 9-23 from beyond the arc. The Panthers shot 49 percent from the field while Colorado State shot 42 percent, but the difference came at the free throw line where the Panthers made only 8 of their 17 attempts.
Georgia State's Harrow led all scorers with 26 points, while Hunter was limited to only 6 second half points for a 19 point night. Colorado State's Kidd led the Rams with a double-double which included 16 points and 12 rebounds with 8 of his rebounds coming on the offensive side of the court. Kidd led the Rams for a second game in a row, proving to be the Rams new go to guy in his first and only season at Colorado State.
Bejarano added 16 points and 6 rebounds. Rams forward J.J. Avila had a productive night, scoring 13 points while adding 6 rebounds and 8 assists, which led the team. Clavell had a good night coming off the bench for Colorado State, recording 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Colorado State overcame a difficult early season test and ultimately dominated at all aspects of the game in the second half. The Rams out rebounded the Panthers 41-32, had 6 more assists and 2 more blocked shots. However, Colorado State struggled with ball control, recording 12 turnovers for another poor game in that category. Overall, the Rams should be content with their win, and as a team full of newcomers get more playing time together, turnovers shouldn't be as big of a problem.
With the win, Colorado State moves to 2-0 on the season while Georgia State falls to 1-2. Up next for the Rams is a matchup against last year's NCAA tournament surprise team, the Mercer Bears who pulled off a big upset against Duke. The Rams will host the 2-1 Bears on Sunday, November 23rd at 6:00 p.m. MST. The Bears are coming off a 74-66 win over the Kennesaw State Owls. The game can be found online on the Mountain West Network.