FORT COLLINS | Colorado State tends to save its best games for Orange Outs. Saturday night was no different.
But this time, the Rams won on an unforgettable game-winner. CSU senior forward Emmanuel Omogbo knocked down a heroic three-pointer from the left wing with just four seconds left to give Colorado State another nail-biting victory, this time a 56-55 win over San Diego State.
After trailing 33-21 at the half, Colorado State (20-9 overall, 12-4 MWC) used stingy defense and clutch shooting to earn the memorable come-from-behind victory. Storybook may not even begin to describe just how special this season has been for the Rams.
"There have been special moments in my life, but this has obviously been a season with real ups and downs," CSU head coach Larry Eustachy said after the win. "When they announced my name with such a large crowd, the applause I felt, the warmth I felt from the fans, really meant as much to me as something has meant to me in a long time. Then I basically just bought a ticket and watched the game."
CSU leading scorer Gian Clavell came into the contest averaging 18.9 points per contest and 20.9 points per game in conference play. The Rams' star scorer had one of his worst performances on the season, going just 6-of-24 from the field and a forgettable 2-for-15 from three-point range. Yet the Rams gave him the ball down the stretch to run the offense and he helped facilitate key makes. The combo guard finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks, and 4 steals.
"Shooters shoot. I've never shot this many shots in my life," Clavell said after the game. "This is the hardest 18 points I've ever scored in my life."
Omogbo didn't have his best outing, either. CSU's versatile big man got into early foul trouble, notching his second personal foul at the 9:33 mark of the first half. But CSU's frontcourt leader gritted his way to 11 points and 11 rebounds, giving him his 12th double-double in Mountain West play, which ties a conference record for a single season.
San Diego State made 5-of-8 three-pointers in the first half and were led by Malik Pope and Trey Kell, who each netted 10 points. CSU struggled to answer, settling for low percentage perimeter jumpers that more often than not failed to meet the bottom of the net.
CSU's second half was a different story. Following an 8-for-28 field goal rate and 1-for-12 three-point mark in the opening half, CSU made 11-of-32 shots in the second half, which included 6 three-pointers. CSU didn't exactly shoot the most effective rate over the final 20 minutes, but they did enough to unseat an Aztec team that went on a 3:17 scoring drought under the 8-minute mark. SDSU shot an anemic 25 percent in the second half, making just 2-of-14 three-point attempts.
Prentiss Nixon chipped in with 10 points and Nico Carvacho recorded 10 big rebounds. CSU was able to out-rebound a bigger SDSU lineup, 45-37. It was a key metric that Eustachy said going in would be the deciding factor in the game.
"They're long and you can't get to the rim. I said whoever wins the rebounding war was going to win the game, and I think we won the rebound war," Eustachy said. "They came up big in the second half and made the plays. I don't think either team lost it; it just went down to the last play. It was a great college game."
Clavell said Omogbo's game-winner was the first of his life. Omogbo couldn't deny that statement. He also could not refute the emotion going through his soul and body as he shot CSU's game-winning basket.
"I was unconscious. It was probably my parents that forced the ball through the hoop, and my niece and nephew," Omogbo said, referring to his four family members who died in a tragic house fire last year. "I knew it couldn't have only been me. But then again, I was missing all night and I had to make one, for my teammates and everybody who came out. I kind of wish my parents and niece and nephew were here..."
Even though he clutched on his final make, Omogbo knew he wanted to take the last shot.
"I wanted to take it. I was hesitating a little bit, because I missed the three. But it was a last-second shot, so I had to shoot it. I couldn't kick it out. I mean, it is what it is. It went in. We'll enjoy it and move on to the next game."
CSU's star seniors couldn't hold back their emotion after the big win. Clavell was quick to mention his admiration for his friend and teammate.
"I'm so happy for him," Clavell said of Omogbo. "That guy has gone through so much and he just hit the game-winner. I'm just proud of him. That was an emotional game."
The win places the Rams in a tie for first place with Nevada in the Mountain West standings. A win against Wyoming Tuesday could lead to a showdown in the regular season finale against the Wolf Pack in Reno on March 4, which could determine the conference champion.
Considering the turmoil surrounding the program this year, this win is yet another remarkable memory to add to CSU's storybook season.
"Coach Eustachy, that's it," Clavell said of the Rams' special season. "His toughness, the way he coaches us. He'll be screaming at us, then all of a sudden goes to you and hugs you, makes you want to play harder, man. All the work that we know we've done... we've done a lot of work this summer, and this is crazy. But the job isn't done, yet."
Eustachy did not downplay the significance of CSU's big win. Instead, he noted the uniqueness of this entire season for the Rams, who have not won a conference regular season title since 1990.
"I've said it a few times here, but I believe that what's supposed to happen has already been determined. I believe the up and down season and what's transpired was supposed to happen to make me tougher. I was driving over here and thought, 'Maybe it's just our year.' I don't know. I don't know. But I saw it in J.D.'s eyes. He kind of had the eye of the tiger with a couple of minutes to go and he picked up, and they were just so determined and defended so well."
CSU will take on Border War rival Wyoming for a quick turnaround Tuesday contest at Moby Arena. The Rams won their February 14 meeting in Laramie, 78-73. Tipoff is set for 8pm MST.