PUEBLO, Colo. (February 25, 2018) - The Colorado State University-Pueblo men's basketball team lost its season finale Saturday, by the score of 91-88 to Western State Colorado University in a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference at Massari Arena. Before the game, the ThunderWolves honored four senior student-athletes.
The program celebrated the careers of four seniors, Will Newman (G, Hawthorne, Calif.), Mika Nuolivirta (C, ), Josh Smith (G, Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Mark Williams (F, Chino Hills, Calif.). Newman will exit CSU-Pueblo ranked seventh all-time in scoring (1,291 points), second in assists (420 assists) and second in free throw percentage (80.1%). Nuolivirta played in one season for the Pack and led the team this year with 33 blocks. Smith was a 1,000 point scorer (1,028 points) for the ThunderWolves and ranks third all-time in 3-pointers made (247 made) and fifth in career steals (157 steals). Williams was an All-RMAC Second Team performer last season and finished his career a 56.9 percent shooter from the field.
A win and the Pack (12-16, 9-13 RMAC) would have found their way into the eighth seed of the RMAC Shootout, instead, Western (12-12, 11-11 RMAC) will fill that role and the 2017-18 season is over for CSU-Pueblo.
The ThunderWolves went 1-8 this season in games decided by five points or less, which is heartbreaking in a season where one game was the difference in making the postseason. The Pack finished the regular season under .500 for the first time since 2010-11, one season before seven-year head coach Ralph Turner took over the program.
Smith played in all 40 minutes of his last career contest and finished with 18 points behind five 3-pointers. He also pulled down eight rebounds and totaled five steals, three assists and two blocked shots. Newman scored 22 points and also played in all 40 minutes of his final game. He hit four 3-pointers and shot 52.9 percent from the field. Nuolivirta totaled 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting from the field in 12 minutes of play. He also had two blocked shots.
Sophomore Donovan Oldham (G, Colorado Springs, Colo.) scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half. He was 7-for-9 (77.8%) from the field and pulled down seven rebounds. Junior Gavin Liggett (G, Limon, Colo.) knocked down three of his four 3-pointers in the second half and totaled 13 points in the game. He added three steals.
The ThunderWolves finished the game shooting 52.4 percent from the field, but the Mountianeers shot a hot 59.4 percent. The Pack produced 13 3-pointers, but allowed 10 from Western. CSU-Pueblo got beat on the glass 34-26, a trend this season, as the ThunderWolves won the battle of the boards just nine times in 2017-18. The Pack produced 11 steals and five blocks, while turning the ball over only nine times.
Saturday had a slightly similar script to the other close losses this season, but CSU-Pueblo was able to make some clutch shots down the stretch, just not the big one. In the end the game was tied on six occasions and the lead changed six times. The largest lead for Western was 11 in the first minute of the second half, while the home team's biggest advantage was three early in the game.
The Pack trailed 45-38 after the first half and stayed about two to three possessions behind for most of the second half. Down seven at 79-72 with four minutes to play, the ThunderWolves put together a 10-2 run to lead 82-81 with 2:26 remaining in the game. The stretch was capped by a rare four-point play from Liggett to give him seven of the 10 points in the run (Smith had a 3-pointer).
The Mountaineers responded with a 3-pointer of their own to regain the lead 84-82. An Oldham layup tied the game, but an successful and-one for Western on the other end pushed the score to 87-84 with 1:36 remaining. Oldham came through again with a layup and was fouled, but he couldn't complete the three-point pay and the Pack trailed by one.
The deficit was three at 89-86 with a minute left, but an errant 3-pointer from Newman was gathered in by Oldham and he was fouled. This time he sank both from the charity stripe and the game was at 89-88 with 39 ticks remaining. With 12 seconds left Liggett secured a turnover and pushed the ball up the court to Newman where he was fouled on his way to the basket. Down one with just seven seconds remaining Newman, a career 80 percent free throw shooter, had the chance to tie the game or take the lead, but both shots didn't go and the Pack were forced to foul.
Western made the free throw shots and with three seconds left the Pack were in desperation mode. Nuolivirta ended up with a contested 3-point shot as time expired, but it was off the mark and the season ended in disappointing fashion.
The ThunderWolves missed just three free throws in the game (9-for-12), but all were in the final 1:18. Western was 3-for-6 from the line before sinking the final two with three seconds left.
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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.