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Colorado, in the Desert: Buffaloes lose heartbreaker to Arizona State

Swallowed by sand and time they played. What began as an epic ended a parched pathetic.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For it put it simply, Colorado has a brutal opening few weeks in the Pac-12 schedule. The Buffs just came off a blowout loss at Utah, play at No. 17 Arizona on Saturday and host No. 4 UCLA and No. 25 USC next week. Tonight’s game against Arizona State was, by far, the easiest of the bunch and was about as must-win as any game can be this early in the conference schedule. Despite their best efforts and despite a stellar performance from Derrick White, Colorado fell to Arizona State 78-77.

Colorado struggled early on offense, as they tend to do. Whatever offense they had early came from Xavier Johnson. With a three-pointer and a couple layups, XJ had Colorado’s first 7 points of the game and led the Buffs with 13 points in the half. As the half progressed, Derrick White joined him in the offensive production and pitched in 10 points and 3 assists, including one on this ridiculous pocket pass to Tory Miller.

Unfortunately for Johnson, his game was cut short after he and Arizona State’s Jethro Tshisumpa got into a heated exchange and were both ejected from the game. It appeared that Tshisumpa attempted to hit Johnson and that Johnson may have swung at him on his way down from the initial contact, but it’s difficult to say for sure.

If there’s one place Colorado is deep, it’s at wing. The Buffs missed Johnson’s shooting and rebounding, but they were able to survive without him. Tad Boyle turned to Deleon Brown, Bryce Peters and Tory Miller to replace Johnson by committee. Each of whom stepped up admirably and kept the Buffs afloat.

On defense, Colorado looked to conserve as much energy as possible in what can only be explained as environmentalist efforts. Colorado saved gas by not hustling back on ASU’s transition opportunities. They saved water that they could have used to cool down the Sun Devil’s fiery shooting. In innovative efforts, Colorado all but eliminated resistance to ASU’s rebounders — you would never guess how much energy is wasted on friction. Even on offense, they recycled and reused the same sets over and over again.

On the other side of the floor, Colorado’s offense as a whole was as frustrating as it’s been all season. Arizona State came into the game 11th in Pac-12 defensive efficiency, have no size at any position other than center, have very little depth (which makes them susceptible to foul trouble) yet the Buffs were content to settle for deep shots instead of work the ball inside. After their offense stagnated on the perimeter for much of the game, Colorado generated offensive success only when they penetrated the paint. Finding that offensive success was what almost saved them in the desert.

Neither team could pull away, no matter their respective miracles or mistakes. In this battle, White led Colorado’s offense in Dinwiddian fashion as he had 35 points (25 in the second half!) on 10-20 shooting from the field and a ridiculous 12-12 from the free throw line. As if that wasn’t enough, He also had 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and a steal. This guy might be good at basketball.

After a neck-and-neck, down to the wire final few minutes, Colorado was down 76-75 with 30 seconds and had the chance to take the lead. White drove to the rim effortlessly like he had all day, drew yet another foul and made both free throws to give the Buffs the lead with 17 seconds to go. Arizona State called a timeout and found an open three-pointer on the ensuing play, but it came up short. As luck would have it, ASU guard Tra Holder flew in for the rebound and was fouled by White with only 1.6 seconds remaining. Holder made both free throws to give Arizona State the 78-77 win.

Colorado is now 10-5 on the season and 0-2 in the Pac-12. Next up for them is a road game against the Arizona Wildcats, which is on Saturday night, January 7th, and will air at 7:30 pm on Pac-12 Networks.