FORT COLLINS — Three-hundred and fifty-eight days ago, Colorado State found itself on the wrong end of what Larry Eustachy called an “embarrassing” loss to in-state rival Northern Colorado. It marked the first time the Rams had lost to the Bears since 2009 and was just the third time CSU had lost to UNC in their 13 career matchups. To make matters worse, the Rams had to sit inside Bank of Colorado Arena for an extra hour because of mechanical problems with the team’s bus.
Nearly a year later, CSU had no such problems as the Rams dominated in the second half en route to an 81-64 blowout win over the Bears in front of a crowd of 3,114 at Moby Arena.
Junior college transfer Devocio Butler led the Rams with a career-high 19 points and six rebounds while senior Gian Clavell came off the bench to score 15 points in his first regular season action since the Rams loss to UNC last year. In the week following last year's loss to the Bears, Clavell was ruled out for the season due to hand and shoulder injuries. And after being granted a medical hardship waiver this offseason, he was suspended for the first nine games of this season after being arrested in connection with a domestic dispute with his ex-girlfriend.
Despite some early rust, Clavell finished 5 of 12 from the field in 28 minutes.
Clavell wasn't available to the media after the game, but both Larry Eustachy and the two players made available to media, Butler and Nico Carvacho, believe Clavell has learned to value the game even more after being away from it for almost an entire year.
“It just helped him get a different outlook,” Carvacho said of Clavell’s suspension. “Because could’ve been taken away from him, and that’s what he loves. And he was hurting. It would even hurt him to watch us play because he wanted to be out there with us. I think he realized that he needs to make the right decisions so he can play with us.”
The story on the court in the first half was the Rams’ poor 3-point shooting, though, with CSU shooting just 2-for-13 from behind the arc, an area where they have struggled mightily this season. That, along with six made 3-pointers by the Bears, allowed UNC to hang around in the first frame. After taking a 34-27 lead with 1:04 to go in the half, CSU allowed six consecutive points to close the half, closing with just a one-point lead.
Things quickly turned around for the Rams in the second half, though, with CSU continually pounding the smaller Bears in the paint, getting in the bonus just six minutes into the second half. Leading the charge inside for the Rams was redshirt freshman Nico Carvacho, who recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. It was Carvacho’s second double-figure scoring game this season after scoring 14 points in CSU’s upset win over Colorado.
“I think he’s an absolute professional prospect,” CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said of Carvacho’s potential upside. “… He may not be here four years, I think he’s that good. Usually when you’re that big, you’re play because you’re that big. If he was 5-foot-9, he would play. He’s got a major upside and he gets some huge rebounds, doesn’t he? … When has there been a better, bigger freshman here?”
After scoring just two first-half points on 1-for-5 shooting, Clavell also came alive in the second half, shooting an efficient 4-for-7 while pouring in 13 points. Despite coming off the bench, Clavell played 28 minutes, third-highest on the team behind Butler and fellow guard J.D. Paige.
Eustachy said after the game that he expects Clavell to start when the Rams return to action next Saturday at the Pepsi Center against Kansas State, likely taking junior Che Bob’s spot in the starting lineup.
Clavell’s return gives CSU another scoring option offensively, and should help bolster their rebounding statistics after averaging nearly nine rebounds per game last season before his injury.
The Rams will have the next three days off for final exam preparation before returning to practice Wednesday. Kansas State will enter Saturday’s game with just one loss, a one-point heartbreaker to Maryland, and should provide another good non-conference test for the Rams.