Contact CU Independent basketball beat writer Alissa Noe at Aliisa.firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @crazysportsgirl1
After coming off 10 straight wins, the Colorado Buffaloes entered the third leg of the Las Vegas Classic with the high hopes of extending their streak to 11. After a hard-fought, heart-stopping matchup, they walked away with a narrow 71-70 victory over Penn State
Throughout the entire first half, the Buffaloes never led but stayed right with the Nittany Lions. A quarter of a minute into the second, that all changed when they got on top for the first time.
By the end of it all, the two teams battled to five lead changes and seven ties, but the Buffs ultimately won the war.
Both teams shot pretty evenly. Penn State beat out the Buffs in that respect, shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range. The Buffaloes however, shot 43.8 percent from downtown on the night. Colorado’s starting five sank 6-of-9 from beyond the arc.
The Buffs boasted three players with double-digit scoring, led by senior forward Josh Scott (18 points), junior guard Josh Fortune (13), sophomore guard Dominique Collier (12) and junior forward Wesley Gordon (10). Colorado also finished the game with 12 assists, which has been a sticking point to this team all season.
Things got off to a bit of a rough start for the Buffaloes, who went down early against Penn State in Las Vegas and couldn’t quite shake that blow for much of the rest of the half. Although the Nittany Lions dominated the lead throughout the first 20 minutes of play, the Buffaloes were a hardy bunch that could not be shaken easily.
The Buffs tied it up twice early on, the first coming at 16 and a half minutes at six points and the second coming at seven minutes with 15 points apiece. Further proving they were in Sin City to fight, free throws would keep the mountainous men in the game in the final minutes.
The Nittany Lions gained their largest lead of the game with 13 minutes remaining, going up 13-6.
With 2:14 left, freshman guard Thomas Akyazili hit one of two free throws to tie the contest up at 23 and, a minute and a half later, Scott sunk two more to tie it back up again at 25. By the time the buzzer sounded for the break, nothing had changed. Both teams were deadlocked at 25.
The Buffs, who have boasted some fairly good offensive play all season leading up to Tuesday night, looked somewhat off in the opening action of the game.
Scott led Colorado with 18 points and eight rebounds, but what really seemed to keep Colorado in the game was the team’s 28 free throws made. The Buffs also managed to out-rebound the Nittany Lions, 40-27.
Ball-handling and passing, however, seemed to be the Buffs’ true Achilles’ tendon (I’m looking at your leg, Xavier Johnson). Over the first 20 minutes of play, the Buffs turned the ball over nine times and assisted just twice.
At the start of the second half, Colorado seemed to have found its mojo again as a it achieved everything it had been working toward in the first half. Just 14 seconds in, junior forward Wesley Gordon hit a long jumper to give the Buffs their first lead of the game.
And, as was to be expected, both teams played a tumultuous, back-and-forth second half without so much as a notable lead to be proud of. Seven minutes in, Colorado gained its first substantial lead of the game as it began to pull away from Penn State, 39-34.
From there on out, the Buffaloes dominated the pace of the game. With exactly four minutes on the clock, they amassed their biggest lead of the game, 64-53, after Fortune and Fletcher hit deadly consecutive threes.
It was an uphill battle for the Nittany Lions from that point on, but they would never summit before the final buzzer sounded.
But that’s not to say they didn’t make it interesting.
With 26 seconds left, after Collier mistakenly fouled the Nittany Lions’ starting guard Shep Garner, who led all scorers with 26 points, Penn State pulled within just three points, 68-65. But the heart attacks didn’t stop there. With 15 second left on the clock, they closed it to two, 69-67.
With two seconds left on the clock, Garner made a three to pull within one, 71-70. But, luckily for the Buffs, they escaped their first game in Las Vegas with that final score. It was a hard-fought battle but, against the laws of nature, the Buffaloes stomped the Lions in the end.
The victors return to the same Vegas court tomorrow at 8:30 p.m. to take on No. 18 SMU in the final game of the Las Vegas Classic in the hopes of sealing their 12th straight victory. Get your couches ready, Buff fans, because this time the game will be broadcasted live on Fox Sports 1.