And just like that, we can alter expectations for the Colorado Buffaloes’ 2018-19 season. The Buffs flew to Hawaii hoping to boost their resume in the Diamond Head Classic, but they immediately face planted and lost their opening game to Indiana State.
CU has gotten into a bad habit of starting off cold and warming up later. That combined with their usual neutral site malaise led to an unwatchable first half. Per tradition, CU struggled with turnovers, missing open shots and getting into a flow. It didn’t help that they were playing very little defense against a sweet-shooting opponent. The Sycamores, the most accurate three-point shooting team in the nation, shot 8-12 from 3 early on, and that 75% feels a little low. Colorado was down 36-28 at halftime, and in the following five minutes that grew to a 14-point deficit.
Led by budding star Tyler Bey (16 points and 13 rebounds), the Buffs did climb back. They managed this by making the brilliant strategic adjustment to play defense and make open shots. It helped too that Bey is realizing more and more every day how good he is. He can be everywhere on defense, dominate the boards and finish just about anything inside — once he extends his range to the 3-point line, he’s going to be ridiculous.
After McKinley Wright and Evan Battey contributed clutch buckets, the Buffs were on the verge of tying the game and taking control. They were still held back by missed free throws and botched bunnies, but it looked like they were going to pull this out if they kept up the momentum. With 1:17, Shane Gatling buried a three to bring it to 66-65. Then after a Sycamores layup, Wright was poised to convert an and-1 to tie the game at 68 with 27 seconds left, but he missed the free throw. They didn’t foul after the miss and promptly allowed a layup. Gatling missed a three with 7 seconds left and that was that.
Colorado lost 72-68 to a mediocre team, and it was because of their poor start and awful late-game execution. This team is talented enough to compete with anybody, but they aren’t good enough to coast, especially away from home. Part of this falls on the players for not bringing more focus and energy, and part falls on Tad Boyle for not having better execution late. It’s a frustrating loss that caps what the Buffs can get out of this tournament and this season, and it’s painfully indicative of a team that can’t yet realize its potential.
Losses like this shouldn’t happen, which is why the Buffs are very likely going to miss out on the NCAA Tournament. If they were poised as a bubble team — it’s still very early, so it’s hard to say — their resume will be docked for performances like this and at San Diego. For now, though, the Buffs will have to refocus and take it one game at a time.
Next up for CU is a game against the loser of UNLV and Hawaii on Sunday at 5 p.m. (MST) on ESPNU. As detailed in the tournament preview, both pose problems as physical teams who love a good rock fight. If the Buffs aren’t ready to fight, it’s not going