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Colorado scrapes by Loyola Marymount

D’Shawn Schwartz saved the Buffs

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at UCLA Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The bad news: the Colorado Buffaloes barely beat the Loyola Marymount Lions. The good news: this is a bad loss in other years, but a double-digit win this season.

The 20th ranked Buffaloes improved to 7-0, but they were slow to get started in their fourth consecutive game. All season they have struggled with their shooting — only against Arizona State in the opener have they shot above 45% from the field — but their defense has carried them to an undefeated start. That is unsustainable, especially once the schedule picks up.

Against Loyola Marymount, it was clear that the Buffs didn’t show up ready to play. They were going through the motions and thought they could get an easy win. It makes sense to look ahead, as they will visit the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday, but that’s recipe for disaster against a team with a hot shooting hand.

As the Buffaloes committed more first half turnovers (13) than they made field goals (10), the Lions made a surprise run to gain a halftime lead. Led by Eli Scott — he of Ball-era Chino Hills teams — LMU built a 34-30 lead at the break and extended it to 43-34 early in the second half. Colorado was in trouble before they woke up, just as they were against Wyoming, Clemson and Sac State in three games last week.

On a night when Tyler Bey struggled with aggressiveness and turnovers, CU needed all they could get from their wing scorers. The beauty of offensive balance is that when the stars go cold, secondary scorers have the ability to step up and lead the offense. Tonight, the star was D’Shawn Schwartz, the former role player who has become the Buffs’ most consistent scorer this season.

When Colorado was facing that early deficit, it was Schwartz (and Shane Gatling) who hit big three-pointers to get the team back into the game. Once LMU’s hot shooting hand went cold, the Buffs took control for good on another three by Schwartz, which gave CU the 64-61 lead with 2:41 remaining. Colorado iced the game by nailing 12 of 12 free throws for their final points in a 12-point win.

If this is the worst we will see the Buffs plays this season, that could be a good thing. They won’t go undefeated against the Pac-12 with prolonged shooting slumps, but it’s comforting to know that their offensive struggles may be tied to concentration, and that their elite defense gives them room for error.

Colorado will play the #2 Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday (5:00 p.m, ESPN2) in a vital game for Tad Boyle and the entirely of the basketball program. They fly to Lawrence in an apparent cold streak, but maybe the high stakes basketball is exactly what they need to get refocused.