On Monday night in Brooklyn, the Buffs had themselves their first test of the season, and they came oh so close to passing that. Instead, we have a loss in which Colorado will have to reflect upon their shortcomings and build from there.
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The Buffs struggled from the get-go, something we’ve grown to expect from them in neutral-site games against good competition. In the first half, they wallowed about in turnovers, bricked shots and passive defense as they allowed the Fighting Irish to build a considerable lead.
The second half was a night-and-day difference, as stingy defense and solid offense — Xavier Johnson and Derrick White carried the day — saw that Notre Dame shrink all the way down to three points with only a minute to play. Unfortunately for the Buffs, the comeback effort wasn’t enough to overcome their putrid first half. They fell 89-83 and will play the loser of Texas-Northwestern Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Legends Classic third place game.
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Without Josh Scott, it was evident that Tad Boyle would need to rely on small-ball lineups all season, as he only had two bigs in Wesley Gordon and Tory Miller he could play in crucial spots. Against Notre Dame, Gordon got into foul trouble early and Miller was off, so the Buffs used super-small lineups for extended stretches. These lineups should provide offense aplenty, but can be precarious on defense. We saw just that today.
Against the small-balling Fighting Irish, CU conceding lots of shots, struggled on the boards, and looked hopeless at times rotating and containing Notre Dame’s guards, particularly Matt Farrell. Fortunately, they looked better with each passing second. They should be able to shore up these deficiencies in due time.
On offense, those small-ball lineups looked promising, as they should. Throughout the game, point guard Derrick White was able to cut through the defense to find open shots for himself (20 points) and for others (8 assists). Xavier Johnson, George King and Josh Fortune are all mercurial, but they’re all great shooters and dynamic off the dribble — deadly in a small-ball lineup. Collier will only add to that when he recovers from his foot injury. Yes, this offense struggled some, but as we saw in the second half, they can compete.
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Speaking of Xavier Johnson, he appears as though he may be officially back from his Achilles tear. He was back to his efficiently scoring self, as he had 23 points on 8-15 shooting.
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Elsewhere on the floor, the Buffs sure struggled protecting the rim and rebounding without Wesley Gordon. Gordon is one of the premier interior defenders in the nation and his rebounding is unparalleled, so this wasn’t the biggest surprise once he had early foul trouble.
Without him on the floor, the Buffs tried their hardest to secure the boards by sending as many players to the rim on every shot. When they couldn’t get the offensive rebound, Notre Dame had numbers down the court. When they couldn’t get the few defensive rebounds, Notre Dame had open shots with no one playing out on the perimeter.
When Gordon returned in the second half, Colorado had some similar struggles, but not nearly enough to hold back the Buffs. They were strong on the glass, solid defensively and significantly better on offense. Not saying it was all Gordon, but when there’s a convenient correlation, you have to take it.
Overall, Gordon is the fortification this defense needs and is the second chance machine this offense deserves. It appears as though he will be the player the Buffs cannot afford to lose for any time. His presence is simply invaluable.
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It was close, but the Buffs were unable to bounce back from their early struggles. In order to reach their full potential, Colorado will need to learn from this game and continue onward with confidence. They’ll be fine, and those resume-building wins will come in due time.