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Colorado State Rams open NCAA Tournament with rout of Virginia in First Four round Tuesday night

Mar. 19—DAYTON, Ohio — Colorado State knew it wasn't facing an offensive juggernaut to tip things off in the 2024 NCAA Tournament. Virginia is a program that has built its reputation, and nabbed lofty achievements like the 2019 national championship, based on defense.

Yet it was the Rams that turned in a remarkable defensive effort.

Colorado State was locked in from the opening tip, while the Cavaliers simply couldn't shoot straight. The result was a lopsided 67-42 CSU victory on Tuesday night in an NCAA Tournament First Four battle at Dayton Arena.

It was the first NCAA Tournament victory in 11 years for the 10th-seeded Rams, who advance to play seventh-seeded Texas in the first round on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C.

"Just a terrific performance really on both ends of the floor from the opening tip," CSU coach Niko Medved said. "Our guys came with a great edge, a great focus. Did a great job of playing together at both ends of the floor, and I thought as the game continued to go on, we just continued to be fundamentally sound and tough-minded.

"We felt like we had an opportunity to win here tonight. But that's a hall of fame coach over there (Tony Bennett). That's an incredible program, one that I have an unbelievable amount of respect for. I didn't see this coming like this way tonight at all. But I'm pretty pleased."

The Rams were active and intense on defense, while Virginia took the phrase "offensive struggles" to new depths.

The Cavaliers went the final 10 minutes, 30 seconds of the first half without a field goal and went scoreless over the final 9:20, missing their final 15 shots of the period. Virginia finished the first half with a .172 shooting percentage (5-for-29) and missed its first four shots of the second half to extend the futility to 19 consecutive missed field goals.

CSU ended the first half on a 9-0 run to take a 27-14 lead at the break, and while the woeful Cavaliers offense made thoughts of a comeback improbable, the Rams opened the second half with a 10-2 run. That extended the lead to 21 and put to bed any thoughts of a Virginia rally.

"We definitely took (the seeding) a little personal," CSU wing Nique Clifford said. "We felt like we were better than the seed we got. But you know we were super grateful to be part of the tournament. Especially to go against a team that has the history that (they) do. We were just excited to go against an opponent like that and just be able to prove ourselves."

Clifford played a few minutes of garbage time in the 2021 NCAA Tournament for Colorado but starred in his tournament starting debut for the Rams, going 7-for-12 and finishing with a double-double after recording 17 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Forward Joel Scott was the recipient of several of those assists, as he finished 9-for-13 with game-highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Scott's scoring total was a season-high, and he has gone 18-for-29 with 43 points in the past two games.

CSU finished with a lofty .553 shooting percentage while Virginia finished 3-for-17 on 3-pointers with a .250 mark overall.

"Hard to imagine tonight going any better for us," Medved said. "I'm just so proud of our guys the way they've handled the last 48 hours. It's just been incredible. The preparation, the travel, mentally from Selection Sunday to now, they've just done a beautiful job."