FORT COLLINS — Sometimes the 3-point shot Saturday afternoon was Colorado state’s best friend. At others, it was the Rams’ worst enemy.
Needing a spark to turn their 0-3 start in the Mountain West Conference, CSU turned to long ball against a Fresno State team just days before handing their first loss of the season to No. 21 New Mexico .
CSU made 14-of-29 from the deep, just under 50%, as the Rams shot their way to their first conference win of the season, 79-57, over the Bulldogs.
“It was a big game for us,” said CSU head coach Niko Medved. “After the struggles we went through, we had to react. Our guys stayed together and prepared well and I thought we came out and played well on both ends of the floor.
“We never looked back. Every time they made a run, we could fight that run with one of our own.”
A combination of the Rams, taking advantage of a strong Fresno State defense while capitalizing on opportunities on offense, ultimately resulted in the win.
It wasn’t a comfortable win by any means, as when the Rams went cold behind the arc, Fresno State used that to its advantage to decrease CSU’s lead.
But in a game of runs, CSU always had an answer and used a big one at the end of the game to seal the win.
The Rams made five 3-pointers in the first half, but really heated up from across the arc in the second half, making nine of them.
In the first four minutes of the last 20, Jalen Lake hit a pair and Patrick Cartier added two more as the Rams began to retreat.
“As a team, we celebrate each other’s strengths as much as our own,” said CSU security guard John Tonje. “I was really excited to see Lake come back and do some great threesomes for us. It just gives us all the energy and we love to see that.”
Lake’s two 3-pointers made up CSU’s first six points of the second half, giving the Rams an 18-point lead, the widest of the game up to that point.
Fresno State didn’t go away. The Bulldogs cut the CSU lead 49-39 to 10 with 15:25 to play.
The Rams responded with a 12-3 run, going up 19 to 61-42 with 10:06 to play. Fresno State made one final run, closing the gap to nine at 61-52 before the Rams pulled away for good.
Fittingly, three 3-pointers fueled an 18-5 run to end the game for CSU. The Rams’ biggest lead of the game was 23 points at 79-56 and 51 seconds left.
Isaiah Stevens and Cartier led the Rams by 16 points each. They each had two of the team’s 14 3-pointers. Tonje had 13 and Lake 11.
“Of course it feels really good,” said Tonje about the victory. “It was important to get back on track and get a win for the home crowd. We are back. We feel good.”
After Fresno State scored the first three points of the game, the Rams responded with a 6-1 run to take a 6-4 lead and CSU was never behind again.
CSU led 16-14 before starting a 19-7 run to take a 14-point lead at 35-21 and 1-40 before halftime, their largest in the first half.
Fresno State reclaimed two points and the Rams led 35-23 at the break.
The Rams ended up shooting 54.7% from the field in the game, including a 60% mark in the second half. They had 26 assists in just six turnovers, showing why they’re among the best in the country by that ratio.
All nine Rams scored at least a 3-pointer in the seven-chip game.
“I feel like everyone had a selfless mindset today,” Tonje said. “We were all just trying to get our flow going. Of course we’ve stumbled a bit in that aspect of the game in the past, but today we’ve moved and looked more like ourselves.”
CSU (9-8 overall, 1-3 Mountain West) will be back in action Tuesday when the Rams host the Air Force.