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Buffaloes storm back, defeat Eastern Washington

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Colorado overcame a catastrophic first half to avoid disaster, win 76-68.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado came into Thursday night’s matchup with the Eastern Washington hoping to improve upon recent performances. They did not improve, unfortunately, but did just enough in their comeback victory over the Eagles.

The opening ten minutes was nothing short of a catastrophe for the Buffs. For those unlucky enough to be in attendance, the first quarter of the game was a showcase of frustration and futility (and another f-word I’m not supposed to use) as the Buffs struggled mightily in every aspect of the game. For those of you lucky enough to watch on television, I hope you changed the channel to spare your eyes.

The Buffs faced an early 19-2 deficit in which Eastern Washington’s Bogdan Bliznyuk (first try!) had 15 points on an absurd shooting performance. Tad Boyle then called a timeout and presumably reminded everyone how fragile their scholarships are. From then on, the Buffs played with some idea of how to play defense and how to make the leather ball go into the nylon net.

Derrick White was the only starter who wasn’t (presumably) suffering from a stroke, so it was up to Him and the bench brigade to get the Buffs back into the game. Most notably, Deleon Brown hit a critical three-pointer, a pair of free throws and played superb defense. That run and the succeeding play — fueled by hard-nosed defense and fast break opportunities — saw the Buffs outscore the Eagles 30-16 to head to halftime down just three points.

The Buffs began the half ready for work, a far cry from their lackadaisical start to the game. Against an Eastern Washington defense worn down from the run-and-go first half, the Buffs were able to blow by their man-to-man defense. The Eagles tried to combat this with a 3-2 zone, but the Buffs were especially out of character tonight and were able to create open shots against the zone.

In one sequence against that zone, the Buffs hit four of five shots from beyond the arc to tie the game and take the lead. Leading that run was Josh Fortune. Embattled he is, but the man can shoot when he’s feeling it. He hit three consecutive corner threes in that run, including the shot to put the Buffs into the lead with 15 minutes to play. Fortune will likely be demoted from the starting lineup when Dominique Collier is 100%, but he can be vital for the Buffs if he can play like that off the bench.

After taking the 40-37 lead, the game was a back-and-forth, grind-it-out affair that the Buffs eventually pulled away from.

In this close contest, White facilitated the offense with heady passing, dribble-drive penetration and hitting crucial shots. On defense, White and Deleon Brown shined brightest for the Buffs. Colorado’s most cerebral players were everywhere on defense as they solidified the perimeter and locked down the dangerous Bliznyuk. White, in His own grandeur, had 4 blocks to go along with 17 points and 7 assists. Brown had just one block, but it was a three-point attempt when the Buffs were up just four points with a minute to go.

Brown’s block and an ensuing made shot by Wesley Gordon essentially sealed the comeback win. The Buffs rolled with 76-68 win and finish non-conference play with a 10-3 record.

Colorado’s next game is their Pac-12 opener, a New Year’s Day road game against Utah. They follow that up with a road trip to Arizona State and Arizona before hosting UCLA in their conference home opener. Looking at tonight’s performance, the Buffs may not win another game for a while, but hey, they might figure some things out by then.