There’s something about senior leadership that a basketball team needs. J.D. Paige confirmed that Wednesday night in Moby Arena, leading the Rams to a comeback 81-77 victory over Montana State.
Trailing by two possessions midway through the second half, Paige took it upon himself to ignite a rather lethargic Rams offense. While the ball was not falling from deep, Paige did exactly what was needed — attack the basket and finish through contact. Maybe even more important, he locked down the Bobcats’ leading scorer, Tyler Hall, for the final portion of the victory.
“We like to play in transition, and I saw the lane a lot so I took advantage of it,” Paige said. “I was just out there being aggressive. If I see the rim and I can get there, I’m gonna lay it up. But if somebody steps up, I’m gonna dish it off.”
After two blowout victories to begin the season that featured a 50-percent clip from 3-point range, things were bound to change. Coach Niko Medved recognized it after their last victory, saying he expects to learn more about his team soon when they played a competitive game.
In a game that saw the Rams make just 6-of-30 3-pointers and need a late push to earn the victory, Medved surely got that opportunity during the win.
“Guys like (Paige) showed a ton of leadership tonight,” Medved. “I thought they showed fight and fought their way through some adversity tonight against a team that was ready to play … This is how you get better. I think you really learn from these situations.”
The Rams’ offensive struggles were evident early. They failed to match their ball movement from the first two games, leading to late shot clocks and contested attempts. And when they did find open attempts from 3-point range, the Rams struggled to capitalize. Lorenzo Jenkins kept the lethargic offense alive, making 3-of-4 from deep in the frame. Despite the first poor half of basketball this season, CSU held a slim 34-32 lead at the break.
The back-and-forth affair only intensified in the second half as each team found success in spurts. Hall found life after a relatively quiet first half when he knocked down three 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to open up a five-point lead for the Bobcats with 8:22 to play.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to him,” Paige said. “He was hitting some amazing, difficult shots. All I really wanted to do was just make him put it on the floor. He was in rhythm, so if I could get up in him a little bit and make him dribble, make him uncomfortable.”
That’s when Paige decided enough was enough. He willed his way to the hoop on the dribble-drive, keeping pace with Hall and the Bobcats. Paige scored eight straight points for the Rams, and after forcing a steal on the other end, Masinton-Bonner hit a transition 3-pointer to give them a three-point advantage, one they maintained for the rest of the game.
“The funny thing is, before that, he came up to me and said, ‘Next open 3, I’m knocking it down,’” Carvacho said of Masinton-Bonner. “I said, ‘I know’ and that’s what he did.”
On the other end of the floor, Paige halted Hall, allowing just two free throws in the final 7:26. The performance culminated in the most fitting way — Paige bringing fans to their feet during a timeout in the final minute.
Along with Paige’s team-leading 23 points, Carvacho registered his third double-double in as many games with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Defensively, CSU forced 15 turnovers, leading to 23 points. The Rams will now travel for a road tournament, something Medved believes his guys are ready for.
“It’s another opportunity for us to get better, a lot of really quality teams in this tournament,” Medved. “At the end of the day, you want to win every game, but hopefully we walk out of there a better team than when we got there.”