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Colorado defeats Dayton, advance in NIT

The Buffaloes fought hard to beat a quality team.

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Behind a sparsely populated but rowdy CU Events Center, the Colorado Buffaloes fought for everything and came away with a hard-earned win over the Dayton Flyers. The 78-73 win was one of those games where so many things went wrong for CU, but they kept working for the win and eventually pulled through.

Against a highly skilled and experienced team in Dayton, it was always going to be a struggle, particularly against a squad that travels well. The Flyers are one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the nation and that manifests in their ability to both create open looks and to finish whatever contested shots they’re forced into. Even against Colorado’s usually stout defense, they generated all kinds of easy points in the early minutes. Much of that was unsustainable — no one shoots 70% forever — but they still had those points on the board.

Colorado was outplayed for much of the half, particularly on their defensive side. But even as they had too many empty possessions and McKinley Wright looked unsteady against his friends, they had just enough offense to wait out Dayton’s hot shooting. Much of that credit can go to Tyler Bey, who was essential inside and on the glass as he had 10 points and 11 rebounds (4 offensive) by the break. They had great contributions from the usual role players, including clutch shots from D’Shawn Schwartz, Alex Strating balling out as he does in big games, and even Lucas Siewert momentarily finding his jumper.

Despite Dayton’s offense making buffalo burgers, CU ended up going into halftime up 37-35. Besides the score and who was playing, that half was just fun. There weren’t whistles every two seconds, dirty plays or many turnovers. It was clean basketball between two teams who have found their stride as of late.

Like Washington did last week, Dayton ran out of the gates and appeared to take control. They didn’t hit as many threes as they did in the first half — they shoot near 30% on the season, which is somehow worse than CU — but it was just as effortless to score on the Buffs. And for CU, their offense wasn’t operating smoothly, they weren’t grabbing those offensive rebounds, and they had a general malaise come over them. Then Tyler Bey got injured — he’s fine now, it appears — and at that moment, with CU down 7 points, the game seemed like a loss.

And yet! Even without Bey, without Gatling shooting well, or without Siewert doing much of anything in his ten minutes of play, the Buffs came back. We can credit Wright for realizing that he’s better than any of his would-be teammates (had he stayed committed to Dayton after Archie Miller left for Indiana). Wright took over this game with about 10 minutes left in the half. He started shredding Dayton’s defense with pick-and-rolls and he was nearly flawless in how he manipulated space to create shots for himself and others.

Because Dayton’s defense crashed so hard on Wright and Daylen Kountz’s drives, they ceded tons of wide open corner threes. More often that not, those kick outs found D’Shawn Schwartz, who was incredible. He frequently flashes his potential without ever really realizing, but tonight he was the best we’ve seen him in over a month. He was confident, controlled and hit five three-pointers. After seeing him disappear against Washington, this is encouraging that he has bounced back so quickly and so emphatically. His final three gave Colorado a 9-point lead with 2 minutes left — the dagger.

After Schwartz’s three, the students began chanting “We want Bama.” Hilarious and original. The Crimson Tide are the 1-seed in the region and should they beat Norfolk State on Wednesday, Colorado will travel to Tuscaloosa for their second round game. We don’t know yet when that game will be, but we will update when we can. For now, celebrate that CU’s season continues.