The University of Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team hosted the Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday night at Coors Events Center. After trailing 31-28 at halftime and despite falling behind by as much as nine in the second half, the Buffs battled back and earned the win 68-66.
“We knew it was going to be a hell of a game,” head coach Tad Boyle said after the win. “They battled and scratched and showed their toughness … that’s why this win is a big win for our program.”
Three years to the day of Askia Booker’s legendary three-pointer that lifted Colorado to a 75-72 win over No. 6 Kansas, the Buffs brought their A-game and took down the No. 13 team in the country.
Three Buffaloes put the team on their backs on Wednesday evening. Colorado’s George King, Xavier Johnson and Derrick White combined to score 57 out of the team’s 68 points.
Whereas in some past games the Buffaloes have started off cold, against Xavier, Colorado was able to keep pace with the high-powered Musketeers through the first half.
Heading into the matchup, Xavier had three starters averaging more than 15 points per game. The Buffs were unable to contain the Musketeers’ main weapon Trevon Bluiett, who led all scorers with 27 points, but held strong against Xavier’s other two studs: Colorado held J.P. Macura to eight total points while allowing 10 to Edmond Sumner.
The Buffs and Musketeers were fairly neck-and-neck throughout the first half. The largest lead of the first half through the first 17 minutes was just three points, a margin that both teams held at separate times. The Buffs clicked with time winding down in the half, with King, Johnson and White all sinking shots from deep within 90 seconds of each other.
But following a timeout, the Musketeers clawed their way back into the game and retook the lead, going on an 8-0 run from about the three-minute mark. The Buffaloes headed into the locker room at halftime down by three, 31-28.
King led the Buffs with 10 first half points. The first half was a bit rough on both squads in terms of shooting. The Buffs managed to convert just under 35 percent of their shots, while Xavier made about 38 percent.
The first 10 minutes of the second half saw the Buffaloes fall behind. Bluiett sank two shots from downtown in 42 seconds to give Xavier its biggest lead of the game, 39-30, with just two minutes shaved off the clock. Bluiett was a constant nuisance to Colorado. He made 18 of his 27 points from beyond the arch, going 6-of-13 from downtown.
With the score at 39-30, Johnson made a nice layup that was followed shortly thereafter by a jumper by White, who was fouled on the play and converted from the charity stripe. That lowered Colorado’s deficit, although the Buffs still trailed 39-35 with a bit over 16 minutes left.
The most critical phase of the game came with 12:21 left in the contest. The Buffaloes had fallen behind again, this time down 47-39. A free throw made by White ignited a 15-0 run by Colorado which saw four straight three-pointers by the Buffs, one from King, another from White and the final two by Johnson. The Buffs took a 54-47 lead at that point, to the maddening cheers of the fans at the Keg.
After scoring 10 in the first half, King finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, his third double-double in the last six games.
“It’s all about getting stops,” White said. “That’s the most important part. We focus on getting three in a row, and obviously we did that. Offensively, we moved the ball and got the best shot[s].”
Finals, the snow and the chilling cold clearly got to many Buffalunatics on Wednesday night, as a measly 7,743 fans showed up to the Buffs hosting the No. 13 team in the nation.
“The rest of the students that weren’t here missed a great game, and I was disappointed in that turnout,” Boyle said.
Colorado struggled to make baskets in the first half but improved immensely in the final 20 minutes, making an impressive 15 of 27 shots from the floor. That was good for a near 56 percent conversion rate. Xavier fared worse, shooting just 0.4 percent better than it did in the first half.
But if it’s true that an animal is most dangerous after being wounded and pushed into a corner, the same could be said of the Xavier Musketeers, who refused to go down quietly. Xavier went on a 4-0 run, which brought the score to 54-51 in CU’s favor, with a bit over five minutes remaining in the game.
White sank one from long range with 3:38 remaining to give the Buffaloes a 61-54 edge. To say that White had a good final half would be a grievous understatement. The senior transfer from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs made seven field goals and scored 18 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. His 23 points led the Buffaloes.
“That’s absolutely what I was envisioning with [White] coming here,” Boyle said. “If you don’t have players who can make plays down the stretch, you’re not going to win games like this.”
Johnson made a layup with 2 1/2 minutes to go, putting the Buffaloes up 63-58. From there, Xavier chipped away at its deficit, but was unable to capitalize on numerous instances of a one-possession game. Johnson had a solid outing, posting 18 points and snagging seven boards in the win.
White made a key layup with 29 seconds left, the last of his 23 points, which gave Colorado a 67-63 lead. Although the Musketeers managed to score with a lone second left on the game clock, the Buffaloes held strong, and a great team effort on one of Xavier’s final offensive possessions sealed their victory.
“We beat a good team when we weren’t at our best,” Boyle said. “We didn’t fold our tent or get our heads down … we didn’t have bad body language tonight.”
Whereas last week against Colorado State, bad free throw shooting doomed Colorado, the same could be said of Xavier on Wednesday. The Musketeers missed eight of their 21 foul shots in the game. The Buffs were bested in the rebounding department, registering 36 to Xavier’s 41.
“[This win] gave our team confidence, so we’re on the rise right now,” said Wesley Gordon, senior forward. “We just knew we had to keep with it and really just keep defending.” Gordon led the team with five assists and scored five in the win.
Up next for the 7-2 Buffaloes is a road game against Brigham Young University on Saturday, Dec. 10. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. MST in Provo, Utah.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.