It was Star Wars night at the Coors Events center, but the Force was definitely not with Colorado in the first half against the Nicholls Colonels. CU trailed for almost half of the game, including a brief double-digit deficit, but they were able to rally for a convincing victory before a crowd of 8,185.
George King was hot early, draining a pair of threes in the opening two minutes that gave the Buffs an early lead. However, after taking a 12-5 advantage, the Buffs allowed a 13-0 run by the Colonels, which was highlighted by a few key defensive breakdowns by the Buffs which led to easy baskets.
There were several long offensive droughts in the first half, and the Buffs' inability to hit from the outside was almost as frustrating as watching The Phantom Menace. The low-point came near the end of the first half, when the Buffs trailed by ten, 38-28. The crowd took its frustrations out on the officiating crew, who called a tight but not terrible game, and Tad Boyle was visibly upset with his players.
The Buffs scored the last five points of the half to take some of the momentum going into the locker room. At halftime, coach Boyle told the team they had to take more pride in their defense, which had been suspect, and the Buffs responded by making life much more difficult for the Colonels, who shot just 33% from the field in the second half after hitting 50% of their shots in the first half.
The Buffs trailed by as many as seven in the second half, at 43-36, but they were able to work the ball inside more and get layups after offensive rebounds off of the three point shots that continued to miss the mark. They finally got a few outside shots to fall, with Josh Fortune and Dom Collier hitting threes that helped the Buffs to a double digit lead at 69-58 with just over six minutes to play. CU coasted from there, and Boyle was able to put Brett Brady in the game in the final minute of what wound up looking like a comfortable seventeen-point win.
Josh Scott led the way in scoring for the Buffs with 20 points, followed by Josh Fortune with 17 and George King with 14. Fortune and King were responsible for two-thirds of the Buffs' three-point output tonight with three threes apiece. Thomas Akyazili had eight points, which tied for his season high, and Tory Miller had ten rebounds, including five on the offensive end, in just thirteen minutes of play. The Buffs also scored 80 or more points for the ninth consecutive game.
Here are five things we learned tonight:
1. The Buffs are a very different team when they shoot poorly
CU shot 3-15 from three-point range in the first half, and the entire offense suffered as a result. When the Buffs are hitting from the outside it stretches the defense and allows them to work the ball inside to their big men. The offense didn't work at all for long stretches of the first half, with the Buffs seemingly unable to work the ball inside. They'll have to figure out a way to run the offense when the outside shots aren't falling.
2. The Buffs still play down to their competition
It was painfully obvious that the Buffs took Nicholls for granted tonight, and the effort just wasn't there a lot of the time in the first half. We saw this problem against Omaha and Fort Lewis as well, and while the team survived all three games it isn't a good sign going forward. A start like this against a Pac-12 team might have doomed them.
3. Free throws are a funny thing
Tad Boyle famously refuses to talk about free throws, because he doesn't think there's any real explanation for why they fall or why they don't. The Buffs have shot well from the line all year, but tonight they were just 6-for-14 in the first half. In the second half they were 10-for-12. Don't question it.
4. Something isn't right with Tre'Shaun Fletcher
After having arguably his worst game of the season against BYU, Fletcher was just 1-for-7 from the field tonight, including 0-for-5 from distance, and he sometimes looked lost on the defensive end, which prompted a vocal chewing out by Tad Boyle on the sideline.
5. Wesley Gordon was the best player on the court
He blocked seven shots, tied for a career high and third highest in CU history, and he completely changed the game on the defensive end in the second half. Tad Boyle said Wes was "the star of the game tonight. We couldn't take him off the floor in the second half."
The 9-1 Buffs play Hampton tomorrow night at 7pm at the Coors Events Center. In his post-game press conference, Boyle said that any Hampton players watching the game tonight must have been thinking "We can beat Colorado. They're not that good."
Whether Hampton feels that way or not, the Buffs should be ready for another dogfight like the one they survived tonight.