Courtesy of Braidon Nourse

LAS VEGAS – Sometimes, a team just has to find the one sequence late in a game to push the contest over the edge.

Late in the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship first-round matchup with No. 10 San Jose State, No. 7 Colorado State created one: a monstrous Nique Clifford block, followed by a nasty slam from Joel Scott to push the Rams’ lead to five with 2:36 to go.

But like it had for the whole game, San Jose State had an answer, which on this occasion was a big 3 from Myron Amey Jr. CSU responded again with a jumper from Jalen Lake and a corner 3 from Clifford to push it up to a seven-point lead.

By then, the lead was too much and time ran out on the Spartans. With a 72-62 win, Colorado State will move onto the Mountain West quarterfinals to face second-seeded Nevada.

“That’s how you win. It’s what you have to do,” CSU coach Niko Medved said. “We’ve been well-prepared because it’s been that way all year in the Mountain West. Look at the games, not just our games, but across the league this year. They come down usually to the last four or five minutes, and it’s about making plays. A key block, a key rebound, a timely shot, sticking your nose in there and getting a steal, you name it. And Nique made two enormous plays.

“You have to get over the ups and downs in the game and just live in the moment. No matter what happened before, what’s happening, make the next right play, and those were absolutely two huge plays, but he has done that a lot this year for us.”

Clifford neared a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds, but make no mistake: to even be in it at that point, the big difference-maker was Joe Palmer, who poured in a season-high 14 points with a season-high four 3-pointers off the bench.

He had been cold for the latter portion of the season, going just 3-for-19 from beyond the arc since the beginning of February.

After seeing the first one go in, then another, then another, all he could do was smile. Live in the moment, as Medved said.

“Honestly, it was just like, ‘Thank God, finally,” Palmer said. I’ve been texting a couple of my coaches all week. It’s March, anything can happen. I was just, like, about time. It’s about time.
“It’s hard not to smile when you have games like this and you’re here doing all this stuff, so yeah, I’ll keep it on my face for the time being.”

The Spartans’ Amey and Alvaro Cardenas gave the Rams trouble during the first half, combining for 23 on the way to scoring 17 and 18 on the game, respectively. CSU was able to limit both of their production in the second half, particularly during crunch time.

Isaiah Stevens recording a double-double also supplemented what CSU was doing offensively, just like it has all season. He didn’t fill up the scoresheet — just 11 points on the day — as he is so accustomed to, but his 10-assist performance is tied for the fifth-most in a Mountain West tournament game.