By Kweku Turkson
Las Vegas -- Wednesday night’s matchup between Colorado State and the Air Force Academy, the Mountain West Conference Tournament’s number two and ten seeds, respectively, turned out to be quite a mismatch, as the favored Rams were simply too much for their in-state rivals to handle.
Led by a pair of seniors and All-Conference perfomers in guard Gian Clavell and forward Emmanuel Omogbo, the Rams outshot, outrebounded, and outhustled the Falcons in an 81-55 blowout victory, securing themselves a berth in one of the tournament semifinal games to be played on Friday night.
Clavell, the newly-minted Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, was unconscious for most of the night, pulling up from seemingly everywhere and draining six treys while making an impressive variety of shots from all over the court. Clavell finished with a surprisingly efficient 30 points on just 16 shots.
In the early going, it was actually Air Force’s Hayden Graham who was on fire from the outside, as he was already in double figures with 10 points before the game was even six minutes old. However, Colorado State’s Anthony Bonner proved to be just as adept at maneuvering his way through the lane, manipulating the defense to find the open man -- often big man Nico Carvacho -- for easy layups and dunks.
Midway through the opening half, Clavell began to find success probing the defense, as he twice converted old fashioned three-point plays. Later, Clavell was able to go the Steph Curry route, draining a contested jumper from long distance -- with a hand in his face no less -- to award the Rams an eleven point first half advantage at 33-24.
Clavell would continue his hot shooting throughout the game’s opening twenty minutes, tallying 14 points as the Rams went into the halftime intermission with a 39-26 lead.
Clavell continued to connect from deep early in the second half, knocking down a nice catch-and-shoot trey to push Colorado State’s lead to 18, and prompting coach Dave Pilipovich to call a timeout just two minutes into the half. However, the Falcons didn’t fare much better coming out of the timeout, as Rams guard Prentiss Nixon was able to drain a nice floater from the baseline, increasing his squad’s lead to 20.
Later on it was Clavell again draining from long range on consecutive possessions, pushing his point total to 25, and again establishing a twenty-point lead for the Rams. The Falcons failed to seriously threaten Colorado State for the remainder of the game.