Beaten at the buzzer

Colorado's final season in the Big 12 Conference and first season under coach Tad Boyle ended in dramatic fashion tonight when a last second shot against Alabama in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament didn't go the Buffs' way.

What might have been the final shot of Alec Burks career at Colorado hit off the back of the iron at Madison Square Garden and sent Alabama players racing toward their bench to celebrate a 62-61 win.

Burks hit the floor in a heap of disappointment as the realization that the season was over washed over him and his teammates.

Alabama will face Wichita State on Thursday night in the championship game. Wichita State destroyed Washington State in the first semifinal of the night on Tuesday.

The Buffs battled the Crimson Tide hard all night and put themselves in position to win down the stretch but couldn't come up with the crucial stop defensively or the clutch shot on the offensive end.

Senior Cory Higgins missed a pull-up jumper at the free-throw line with 45 seconds remaining that would have given the Buffs a three-point lead.

The miss set up an Alabama possession in which point guard Trevor Releford ultimately scored on a baseline drive with 12 seconds remaining to take a one-point lead. CU had a chance to end that possession following the first missed shot from the Crimson Tide but couldn't come up with a rebound.

CU pushed the ball to midcourt with 9 seconds remaining and called timeout to set up a final shot. Coach Tad Boyle put the ball in the hands of Burks who dribbled by two defenders from the sideline to just left of the top of the 3-point arch when he let his shot go.

The result ended the careers of CU seniors Higgins, Levi Knutson and Marcus Relphorde. Higgins scored 13 points in the game finishing his career tied atop the school's career scoring list with former Buff Richard Roby at 2,001 points.

Burks led the Buffs with 20 and Knutson added 14. Andre Roberson scored six points, including a dunk with 1:53 to play that gave CU its final lead.

Alabama won the battle in terms of what style of play the game would feature. CU had been averaging 86 points a game in the NIT while Alabama plays a slower more defensive oriented game, generally holding opponents to 65 points or less. The Crimson Tide entered the fray as one of the better defensive teams in the nation.

Alabama forward JaMychal Green led all scorers with 22 points. Releford was the only other Alabama player in double figures with 13.

CU won a school record 24 games this season and played a school record 38 games, finishing 24-14 overall.

Now the program awaits a decision from Burks on whether he will turn pro or return to CU for his junior season. It would be a surprise if he chose to remain a student because he is expected to be drafted in the top half of the June NBA draft.

Players picked that high are guaranteed three-year contracts worth more than $1 million annually. The deals include a team option for a fourth year. That means Burks would be turning down an opportunity to make between $3 and $5 million to stay in school.

A potential NBA work stoppage likely would not affect Burks, who would simply sign with an agent who would loan him whatever money he needs until the labor dispute is resolved.

Perhaps Burks will surprise us. Maybe the taste of the postseason and that missed shot at the buzzer tonight will motivate him to come back and play with a much different cast of characters next season.But it seems unlikely.

Regardless, Burks, Higgins, Knutson, Roberson and Relphorde finally gave CU hoops fans something to cheer about again this year and made history in the process. It will be fun watching the program grow from here.


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