It wasn't always pretty, but the Buffs got off the mat and delivered a strong performance that kept the fans awake late on a Wednesday night. Despite turnovers, inconsistent shooting, and a brilliant performance by Oregon State's Gary Payton II, CU led for most of the night and pulled away at the end of the game for the first time in over a month to win by 17.
The Buffs were careless with the basketball once again tonight, turning it over 18 times; nine in each half. Many of these were easily avoidable and they weren't the kind of plays one hoped to see from a team coming off a loss largely caused by a lack of execution. They also took too many difficult perimeter shots early in the shot clock instead of working the ball around to try to find a better one, especially in the first half.
CU's trio of wings had arguably their worst game of the season, scoring just 16 points among them, with 12 of those coming from Josh Fortune. Fortune had his best offensive night in a while, but his turnover problem continued. He coughed it up four times tonight, and a few of them were just as head-scratching as the final two he committed against Utah. Ball security has been a major problem all season and it's concerning that it's just as big of an issue in January as it was in November.
Gay Payton II was Oregon State's only offensive threat all night, but he burned the Buffs badly at times, outscoring the entire CU team 9-2 for a stretch that saw a six point CU lead turn into a one point deficit in the second half.
Wesley Gordon finally brought the small non-student crowd to its feet with a ferocious put-back dunk off a missed Josh Fortune three-pointer with ten minutes remaining in the game. That play was indicative of his inside dominance all night, as he finished with 14 rebounds (seven of them offensive) and six blocked shots. The Buffs finished with an impressive ten blocks overall.
The game was still close heading into the final five minutes, with CU holding an eight point lead at 56-48. This was the point where the team had faltered so badly against Utah, Stanford and SMU. Tonight was different. The Buffs outscored Oregon State 15-6 the rest of the game, and won going away for the first time since CSU.
CU's last two victories were by a single point. Despite being close for most of the game, tonight was downright comfortable by comparison.
Here are 3 things we learned tonight:
1. Gary Payton II is the real deal
The C-Unit chanted "Daddy's shadow" whenever Payton attempted free throws tonight, but he lived up to his famous name by scorching the Buffs for 26 points (a career high) and 15 rebounds. At one point in the middle of the second half, Payton took over the game and singlehandedly gave Oregon State a brief lead. He finished with almost half of the team's total points.
2. The Buffs' frontcourt has the capability to win games singlehandedly
The Buffs were leading by only four points at halftime, and they were only plus-one in the rebounding column. In the second half, Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon grabbed 19 rebounds. The Beavers had 15. This led the Buffs to a massive second half rebounding margin of plus-14. The duo scored 23 of their combined 37 points in the second half as well. They helped the Buffs dominate the paint after the intermission, when they outscored Oregon State 22-6 after being outscored 18-6 in the first half. CU scored 42 total points in the second half with only one made three-point field goal, compared to 29 in the first half with five three-pointers. The inside game is what provided the difference.
3. Thomas Akyazili looks like the team's #2 point guard
The freshman has the best assist to turnover ratio among guards on the team in conference play so far, and the Buffs looked markedly better with him on the floor tonight than they did when Xavier Talton was playing. Akyazili also made two three-pointers and blocked another shot from behind. The latter is something he's done more and more in recent games, and he said in the postgame press conference that he tries to block every shot. That kind of defensive mentality is rare in a point guard and it's an encouraging sign.
The Buffs take on the Oregon Ducks at 5pm on Sunday at Coors Events Center. This overlaps with the Denver Broncos' first playoff game. In the postgame press conference, Tad Boyle encouraged fans to show up on time, noting that they'll keep track of the score on the video screens and that the Broncos game will be shown at Chip's Corral in its entirety. Hopefully the fans turn out, because Sunday looks to be a great matchup, with both teams eager to assert themselves in the crowded Pac-12.