The University of Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team played host for the first round of regional play for the annual Legends Classics. The Buffs defeated the Seattle University Redhawks 67-55 despite a poor night of shooting and a late Seattle near-comeback Monday night.
It was an ugly game for both teams in several departments. Collectively, the two teams shot just 33 percent from the floor, with the Buffs managing a slight edge, converting 35.8 percent of their shots in the contest.
“That was the definition of winning ugly,” head coach Tad Boyle said after the game. “We were not good offensively. But to figure out a way to win on a night when you’re not functioning offensively this early in the season is a testament to our guys’ will and their toughness.”
Despite the rough offensive outing, the Buffaloes battled back after trailing for a good chunk of the first half. The score was tied 31-31 after the first 20 minutes of play.
Early on, Colorado moved the ball well, but was unable to translate that movement into points on the board.
“We knew which ways we wanted to attack,” said Derrick White, senior guard. “We just [needed to] attack them inside and out, and that’s what we tried to focus on.”
The Buffs struggled to contain Seattle’s big man as the first half began to unwind. The Redhawks’ 7-foot-3 center Aaron Menzies made CU pay early on, slamming down a few dunks to give his squad the edge. But as the clock continued to tick, the Buffs found a way to shut him down. Menzies finished with 6 points.
Defensively, Colorado was solid. The Buffaloes edged the Redhawks in the rebounding department, 55-35.
Senior forward Wesley Gordon led the charge for the Buffs defensively. He had 10 boards by halftime and finished the game with a double-double, recording 14 rebounds and scoring 11 points in the win. He was second on the team in time played, contributing 30 minutes.
“Wes is a good rebounder,” Boyle said. “We need to get more guys doing it … we need multiple guys being a presence.”
Monday night’s game saw four Buffaloes score in double digits. White led the team with 15 points.
Three-point shooting was the main blemish on Colorado’s post-game stat sheet. The team failed to knock down a single shot from downtown in the first half and, on the night, made just 3 of 18.
“We got some good shots … that’s the way offense goes,” Boyle said. “Some nights they go in, and some nights they don’t.”
Colorado’s weak shooting led to a slow start. Seattle commanded the lead for the better part of the first 12 minutes of play. The Buffs trailed 19-11 with half the time gone in the first half, when a fast-break layup by sophomore guard Thomas Akyazili sparked an 8-0 run by CU to tie the game at 19.
The two teams fought hard for control of the game in the ensuing minutes, with Seattle’s Brendan Westendorf knocking down a pair of free throws that tied the game at 31 heading into the second half.
A few minutes into the second half, the Buffaloes began to click offensively. With CU up 34-33, the Buffs began to make some baskets, and took a 47-35 lead before the Redhawks’ Emmanuel Chibuogwu hit a three-pointer to give Seattle its first points in roughly five minutes.
From there, the Buffaloes maintained some distance from the Redhawks, going up 50-40 on a shot from senior guard-forward Xavier Johnson with about 11 minutes remaining.
Johnson finished with 13 points and six rebounds. His 13 points put him over the 1,000-point mark for his career, making him just the 33rd player in Colorado history to do so.
“It’s a blessing to be able to play the game again coming off an Achilles tear,” Johnson said. “I’m just happy to score the basketball.”
But Seattle made the Buffs work for the win. The Redhawks battled back, lowering their deficit and coming within 3 points with six minutes left in the game.
But their effort fell short, as Colorado refused to allow Seattle’s comeback to materialize.
Senior guard Josh Fortune hit two critical back-to-back three-pointers in the span of 39 seconds, as the clock dwindled to under three minutes in the game. His last shot from downtown put CU up 61-53 and got the 6,883 fans at Coors Events Center rowdy. Fortune finished the night with 12 points.
“It was big,” White said. “[Seattle] was making a little bit of a run, so for him to step up when he’s been struggling and the whole team [had] been struggling from deep, it [was] big for us.”
The Redhawks would manage just one final basket, and Colorado went on to win by 12.
“Overall, not our best performance,” Boyle said. “The good thing about our team is our players know it. They know that they weren’t very good tonight … we [have to] get better. We’re not a good team right now. We’re in the process of becoming one.”
Colorado will host Louisiana-Monroe Thursday night at Coors Events Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.