FORT COLLINS – Isaiah Stevens returned for the Colorado State men’s basketball team and the Rams used a strong second half to win their sixth game of the season Wednesday night at Moby Arena.
Stevens, a Mountain West preseason all-conference selection who was sidelined for the first seven games for the Rams (6-2) after having foot surgery, scored 13 points as the Rams outscored Loyola-Marymount by 11 in the final 20 minutes to pull away for an 87-71 victory.
Stevens was introduced to a loud ovation pregame and then made two quick baskets in the game’s opening minute to give the Rams a 5-0 lead.
“Yesterday I was calm,” Stevens said. “When I woke up this morning, a little jittery. When it was released to the media, my phone is just going crazy for hours. So I definitely started to get nervous there for a second, just eager to play more than anything. Just wanted to be out there and be with the guys. I was ready to play. I was so happy.”
CSU led 32-27 at halftime and Loyola-Marymount cut that lead to four in the opening minutes of the second half. The Rams countered with an 11-0 run to take a 50-35 lead, their largest of the game to that point, with 14:18 remaining.
Loyola-Marymount cut into the CSU advantage a few times in the middle of the second half, but the Rams didn’t waver, taking a 65-47 lead with just under eight minutes remaining.
However, the Lions just wouldn’t go away. With 5:33 remaining, they had cut the Rams’ lead to 10 points at 67-57. But the Rams answered, building their lead back to 18 at 78-60 with just under three minutes to play and 85-64 on a dunk by John Tonje with under two to go.
That 21-point lead was CSU’s largest of the game before Loyola-Marymount closed the contest with a 7-2 run.
“Really good performance tonight against a really good team,” CSU head coach Niko Medved said. “I thought our guys really kept ramping it up and put their foot on the gas as the game got going and we ramped up our defense. I thought that was really what got us going there and then I thought we got into a great rhythm offensively in the second half.”
Tonje led five Rams in double figures with 23 points. Isaiah Rivera added 19, Patric Cartier 16 and Jalen Lake and Stevens 13 each. The Rams shot 53% to Loyola-Marymount’s 44%.
For Tonje, who came into the program the same time as Stevens, seeing his teammate back on the floor with him was an exciting moment.
“I couldn’t help but smile,” Tonje said. “We both came in at the same time, freshman year. To see him back on the floor, he obviously made my job easier. We are so blessed to have him.”
Stevens scored the first seven points for CSU, but the Rams fell behind early, trailing by as many as five in the game’s first few minutes.
CSU’s first lead of the game came at 15-14 with 11:05 to go in the first half. However, that lead was short lived. Loyola-Marymount retook the lead and held it until a 3-pointer by Tonje gave the Rams a 22-21 lead with 5:54 left in the half.
The Rams didn’t trail again in the first half and led by as many as nine at 32-23 on a 3-pointer by Rivera with 2:21 left before halftime.
The Lions whittled that lead down to five at 32-27 by the end of the first half. Cartier led the Rams with eight points in the opening period.
“Just a really good performance by our guys,” Medved said. “I don’t really have a lot to complain about. And it sure feels good to have No. 4 (Stevens) back.”
CSU will be back in action Saturday when the Rams host Northern Colorado at Moby Arena.
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