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Xavier Johnson leads Colorado past Wofford

A great second half saw the Buffs win 75-60.

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic-Colorado vs Notre Dame Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado was challenged by the Wofford Terriers, but with a strong second half, they were able to hold off the upset bid. The Buffs rolled 75-60 and are now 5-1 on the season.

Every season, Colorado hosts a mid-major opponent in what should be a glorified scrimmage and unexpectedly ends up with a real game on their hands. Wofford now joins a list that includes Omaha-Nebraska, Lipscomb and Texas Southern.

Like Texas Southern, Wofford stayed in the game with the sweet-shooting that has made them arguably the most fearsome team in the Southern Conference. The team from Spartanburg, South Carolina made the most of Colorado’s struggling defense as they were red hot from the field and from beyond the arc until cooling off in the second half.

Speaking of that Colorado defense, we may have a problem. Colorado struggled early and often defending the perimeter, giving up myriad open threes and failing to close out on those shooters. Those struggles seem to be a staple of the Tad Boyle defense, even considering how good the Buffs always are on that end. Colorado upped the defensive pressure with some success, but this perimeter defense will likely be a problem, at least until Dom Collier returns from injury.

The Buffs’ interior defense was also suspect. Even with rim-protecting extraordinaire Wesley Gordon on the floor, Wofford had all kinds of easy shots at the rim. When the Terriers drove to the basket, the Colorado help defense alternated between looking unaware or unsure about where to rotate. This problem appears to be communicative, which should be expected with a team starting two guys in Derrick White and Xavier Johnson who didn’t play last season. If it is a communicative issue, the problem should ease as the season progresses, and the Buffs will be able to focus on shoring up other areas of their defense.

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Looking at this game optimistically, the offense showed lots of promise in various facets of the game. Team-wide, the Buffs were able to create all kinds of shots up close and on the three-point line. With the unique small-ball offense they play, they were able to both out-muscle the undersized Terriers down low and were able to run and pass around the defense for open shots galore. The Buffs shot 26-46 from the floor (56.5%) and 6-12 from three.

On offense, Xavier Johnson was the unquestioned star of the game. Coming back from a career-threatening injury — the Achilles tear is the worst in basketball — XJ looks like he did two years ago, maybe even better. Early on, Johnson was able to drive to the rim with success, and he splashed a few corner threes. On the question of his athleticism, Johnson doesn’t look all the way back, but he eased those concerns when he dunked on some poor Wofford player midway through the second half. Johnson’s offensive success was vital later on as a string of buckets from him led the Buffs’ 44-point second half. He finished with a career-high 27 points and had 13 rebounds. If he’s able to play offense and rebound anywhere close to this level, he could be Colorado’s most valuable player this season.

Johnson may have been the best offensive player for Colorado, but his success there wasn’t the most promising for the team. That would be Wesley Gordon. The fifth-year senior aimed to improve his offensive game to fill the void Josh Scott left behind, and he looks capable of filling that, at least partially. In addition to posting up and cutting to the basket for easy baskets, his passing was remarkable. From the high-post, Gordon was finding shooters and cutters all over the court, no matter where they were or how much defensive pressure there was. If he’s able to pass like that with four shooters around him at all times, this offense could be incredible.

Elsewhere on offense, Derrick White is gifted — oh so gifted — at driving to the rim. If he doesn’t get an easy shot or create an opening for a teammate, he can draw the foul and get points from the line. He finished the game with 10 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and picked up 3 steals on defense.

Looking at the young guns, we saw what Bryce Peters, Deleon Brown and Lucas Siewert can do playing sizable minutes in a tight game. Peters is an elite athlete and has crazy handles; he appears to be a consistent jump shot away from being a vital contributor on offense. Deleon Brown isn’t the athlete Peters is and has to bulken up to play major minutes, but his all-around offensive game and solid defense should make him a key 3-and-D wing when the Buffs lose current starters to graduation. Siewert has struggled on defense earlier this season, but he looked much better today. With his silky-smooth shooting, he just needs defense (and rebounding) to be valuable on this team.

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Next up for Colorado will be the hated Colorado State Rams. That game, played at Coors Even Center, is on Wednesday night (Nov. 30) at 7:00 p.m. and will be aired on Pac-12 Network.