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X-cellence! Colorado upsets Xavier

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Xavier Johnson is now the king of the Xaviers.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

-- Celebrate the big win with a Year of the Buffalo shirt --

On this sub-freezing December night, the Colorado Buffaloes upset the No. 13 Xavier Musketeers 68-66 in an epic. The Buffs played their hearts out, got heroic production from a few stars and had just enough luck to win their toughest non-conference home game since 2013 Kansas.

Much of the credit for this win will go to Derrick White, savior of the damned. He had a heavenly touch with his shot as he scored the most vital of buckets for CU down the stretch. But before waxing poetic, we have to discuss the game as a whole.

***

From the very start of the game, Colorado’s offense looked as good as they have all season. That isn’t saying much, but it’s saying something. For this Colorado squad, it seems their best offensive performances will come when they’re passing and cutting to generate valuable shots inside and out. As simple as that sounds, those shots are difficult to come by and even more difficult to convert for this mercurial offense. Against Xavier, the Buffs found their groove offensively and scored accordingly.

Instrumental in this attack early on was George King. He isn’t the best player on the team or the most consistent scorer, but when he’s on, he’s invaluable. Early on in this game, King was a threat the Xavier defense couldn’t contain. He converted step-back jumpers and open threes and crashed the boards on both sides of the floor. He had a few ill-advised shots and sloppy turnovers, as you would expect, but he did more good than bad. In the first half, he had 10 points and 6 rebounds, both first on the team. He finished the game with 16 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

As the offense did solid work on their end, the defensive side held up against one of the best offenses in the nation. Coming into this game, Xavier had the 18th best offense in the nation (per KenPom) and were ready to attack this defense. Their guard-heavy inside-out offensive is deadly against anything less than perfect defense. While Colorado struggled at times defensively, they did wonders to contain Edmond Sumner and J.P. Macura, Xavier’s second and third best scorers, respectively.

The first half had a bit of a lull nearing the final minutes in which chaotic defense replaced glorious offense, but it didn’t last, luckily.

To make up for lost scoring, the first half ended with a pointsplosion to behold. In rapid succession, King, Xavier Johnson and Josh Fortune all found nothing but nylon on three-pointers. The Musketeers had an answer for each, as Trevon Bluiett, their unquestioned leader, led their own offensive charge. The half ended the scoring output with Xavier ahead 31-28.

(31-28 at half doesn’t sound like an offensive game, but with the pace and defensive tenacity on both sides, it was more offensive than an Eddie Murphy bit.)

***

The second half began with a Xavier vs. Xavier battle over the X-shaped crown that definitely exists in real life. This battle began with Xavier’s Bluiett hitting a three. Xavier Johnson answered with a smooth fadeaway on the lower block. Then Xavier hit another three, which was answered again by a Xavier Johnson layup. This went on until Derrick White mixed it up with his own personal scoring run; the winner of the Xavier battle, it should be noted, wasn’t decided until the final buzzer when only one of the Xaviers could celebrate.

Midway through the second half, Tad Boyle put in the subs. That decision – a mistake that must be made at least once every half – was the closest the Buffs came to giving away this game. Boyle sent out a lineup that included Thomas Akyazili, Bryce Peters, Josh Fortune and Lucas Siewert.

All these guys are so young (sans Fortune), so I don’t want to criticize them too much, but man, that stretch was brutal. Akyazili works so hard, but he can’t shoot right now, so the defense backs off from him to crowd the paint or double-team the ball-handler. When the Belgian sophomore sees an opening, he forces it when there are better options available to him. Peters can’t quite shoot it yet, but he’s getting there. Siewert, meanwhile, has struggled with his shot of late and was eaten alive on defense. Tory Miller is injured and may be out for a while, so Siewert will be required to step up, or we’ll have to go a different route.

Such an alternative route could be going extreme small-ball, like Tad Boyle did to battle back from Xavier’s nine-point lead with ten minutes to go in the half. When the starters were rested, they held nothing back, especially on offense. At this juncture, the Buffs went on a 15-0 run that saw the Coors Event Center feel like home.

To start that run, Wesley Gordon posted up on RaShid Gaston and converted the jump hook. I bring that mostly because the Gordon-Gaston matchup was so entertaining throughout, even though neither did much immediately noteworthy apart from their matching technical fouls later on.

Following this play, Johnson and King hit back-to-back three-pointers to take the lead. King’s shot, up to that point, was the shot of the year for the Buffs. His shot was a symbol that Colorado was ready for elite competition.

It’s now time to talk about Derrick White, creator of all that is right in the world. Throughout the run, He pushed the pace, found his teammates for open shots and threatened the defense all the while. To finish this scoring run, White hit a pair of ridiculous shots that in no way should have been shot, much less made.

White’s golden play was not limited to offense. On the defensive end, White played immaculately along with his teammates to preserve their tight lead down the stretch. White was always in the perfect position to force difficult passes and block would-be makes.

No time was this heady play more important than in the last twenty seconds of the game. That when the Buffs, up by three points, inbounded the ball but promptly turned it over (à la UConn). Blueitt gathered the loose ball, fought off Bryce Peters and went up for the layup. White, angelic as he is, sprouted wings and blocked the ball with both hands. He then passed it upcourt to King, who then sealed the victory with a free throw.

By the shooting of King, the well-rounded play of Johnson, and the saintly doings of White, the Buffs upset Xavier 68-66. They now have a crucial non-conference win to hang their hats on come Selection Sunday.

Next up for the Buffs will be an away game against BYU on Saturday night, December 10 (8:00, ESPN2). BYU is struggling, but they’re always tough at home. If Colorado can play like they did tonight, they should leave Provo with a victory.

-- Celebrate the big win with a Year of the Buffalo shirt --