The age-old adage regarding March is to survive and advance, which is exactly what Colorado did Tuesday night in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. With Big East opponent Seton Hall visiting Boulder for the first-round match-up, Colorado had a great opportunity to not only get a win over a solid team but keep their season going. The game went down to the last second but Colorado pulled it out, defeating the Pirates 65-64.
The game was by no means pretty. Scoring was hard to come by all game, especially in the first half. A Tristan Da Silva jumper opened the scoring in the game but it would be Seton Hall who jumped out to the early lead. The lead alternated for a good portion of the half before the Buffs went on a nice run with around seven minutes to play in the half. Colorado would stretch its lead to nine but ultimately went into halftime up six.
It was certainly Ethan Wright’s night as the graduate student had his best game of the season and was crucial all night long. Wright finished the half leading the Buffs with 13 points, shooting 3-5 from behind the arc as well. Head Coach Tad Boyle touched on Wright’s impact after the game.
“He’s getting extended minutes, which helps him and he’s in a rhythm,” said Boyle. “He’s playing with confidence. Ethan’s a good player. When I look at that stat line, it’s like, ‘That’s the player that we recruited from Princeton.’ He takes nine shots, but he’s four for six from threes, four for four from the line, and gets five rebounds. He’s given a rock-solid effort”
The second half saw more of the same from both teams, though Seton Hall settled in. Good shot selection and some tough baskets from Seton Hall saw Colorado’s slim lead disappear as the Pirates tied the game up at 40 with around 14 minutes left to play in the game. From that point, it would be a dog fight all the way to the end with each team battling for momentum.
It was an inefficient night for Da Silva who is often praised for his ability to score. Da Silva finished the game as the second-leading scorer for Colorado with 15 yet went 5-16 from the field. Da Silva spoke about the defensive pressure that Seton Hall brought all game.
“I feel like they’re pretty strong, they’re a tough group,” said Da Silva. “They’ve got a lot of grit and I feel like they pride themselves on defense too. They’ve got a couple of rim protectors there too with the four-man and five-man. Their one-on-one defense is pretty good too, so that makes it easy.”
Like any good college basketball game in March, it came down to the final minute. After Seton Hall forced a Colorado turnover and converted it into points, the Buffs found themselves down one with 30 seconds to play. After a Colorado timeout, a nifty pass from Jalen Gabbidon found Julian Hammond for a clutch layup, putting Colorado back up one. Seton Hall attempted to win it fell short after a great defensive stand from the Buffaloes, securing the win and advancing in the tournament.
The Buffaloes got solid contributions but none bigger than Wright’s season high. The graduate transfer saved his best basketball for March, finishing the game with 18 points and five rebounds while going a very efficient 4-6 from behind the arc. Luke O’Brien pulled down 14 rebounds and despite having a tough night finishing on offense, he came through with some clutch baskets.
Despite being a level below March Madness, the NIT has proven to be a great springboard for teams going into next season. A tough season nonetheless for Boyle’s team, he views this as an opportunity to end the season strong and use this tournament to lead into next season.
“Hopefully we can get on a run here and use it as a springboard because that’s what the NIT can do for you especially when you have a young team,” said Boyle. “Obviously, Ethan Wright and Jalen Gabbidon won’t be back next year, but everybody else’s plan hopefully can be a springboard for these young players to go into next year. This experience is invaluable for these young guys.”
Colorado now waits to see who their next opponent will be. The Buffs will play the winner of New Mexico-Utah Valley, which is set to tip off later today. If New Mexico wins, Colorado will be traveling south to play their next game but if Utah Valley pulls off the upset, Colorado’s second round game will be in Boulder.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Jason Marks at Jason.Marks@colorado.edu.