Let it not be forgotten that Ethan Wright won the Colorado Buffaloes an NIT game. The Princeton transfer scored 18 points off the bench to lift the Buffs past the Seton Hall Pirates at the CU Events Center.
As expected, this was an ugly game to watch. The Buffs have been full of these, what with their top-25 defense and their inconsistent offense that’s missing KJ Simpson, J’Vonne Hadley and Javon Ruffin due to injury. And if you think CU is hard to watch, Shaheen Holloway’s Pirates are even more rock fighty than us, as half their roster is made up of relatively unskilled 6’7 athletes who just play hard. (Our guys are skilled, they don’t just play it most of the time.)
Usually it’s been Tristan da Silva who has carries the team through these patches, but he had an off shooting night, which wasn’t that surprising considering he was being face-guarded by KC Ndefo, the three-time MAAC DPOY. What offense CU got early was on Julian Hammond III pick-and-rolls and Wright popping off for 13 points in the first half. Wright looked overmatched earlier in the season, but he has really come on the last few weeks of the season, making a difference with his shooting, passing and generally smart offensive play. (This should also highlight how nice it is to have solid play at the 2-guard spot, which has been something of a black hole this season.)
The second half was gross, especially once da Silva tried to carry but couldn’t hit anything, while also getting bullied by Tyrese Samuel on the other end. (It’s worth noting TDS is playing through an ankle injury.) The Buffs got enough stops and enough clutch shots from Hammond, Luke O’Brien, and at the end, da Silva. CU should also be commending for limiting the turnovers to just 3 in the 2nd half and 10 total; they had a huge problem with that early in the season and have cleaned that up in the last third of the year.
The Buffs move on to the second round of the NIT and will likely travel to Albuquerque to face the New Mexico Lobos. That will be a really tough matchup as Richard Pitino’s team runs a pressing defense with former ASU guard Jaelen House at the point of attack and Jamal Mashburn Jr. leading the offense. The Buffs are down to a 7-man rotation, so they need to take care of the ball, dictate the tempo, and hope to hit enough shots to keep moving. If the Lobos end up losing to Utah Valley, the Buffs will host them in Boulder and have a much nicer experience.