Throughout a choppy, tightly whistled affair the Buffaloes played much like the team that dropped a tight one at home to CSU in 2014. Only it got worse.
“They out-toughed us today,” said Derrick White.
On the way to one of the worst home losses of the Tad Boyle era Colorado missed 14 free throws, went 3-19 from behind the line, and shot 32% from the field while trailing throughout the contest.
Meanwhile, Colorado State cashed in their first 18 free throw attempts and finished 79% from the line. The Rams also made the most of 14 Colorado turnovers scoring 14 points off of those miscues.
“It was obviously a disappointing night for Buffalo basketball, we let an opportunity slip away that we’ll never have back,” said Boyle. “It was a very frustrating night for us offensively. Obviously we couldn’t make free throws and the three-ball wasn’t going in and we were turning the ball over. There’s going to be nights like that and that’s when you have to rely on your defense. Our rebounding was good enough but our defense wasn’t.”
“They deserved to win and we didn’t,” continued Boyle.
The Buffs were never able to reel in the Rams, cutting the lead to four multiple times but never able to make the shots and the plays necessary to pull even with CSU. Even while getting beat on the glass 46-37 Colorado State kept Colorado at bay utilizing timely shooting and capitalizing at the line following aggressive drives.
“They were much better at the free throw line than we were and we’re a good free throw shooting team but we weren’t tonight when it counted,” said Boyle. “And that’s all that matters.”
Colorado held a shaky lead up until the 6:00 mark of the first half, when CSU began to put together an 11-2 run to wrest control from the Buffs. A rare Emmanuel Omogbo three-pointer gave CSU a 24-21 lead with 3:19 remaining and from that point forward Colorado State would not trail again.
The Buffs did manage to ignite the home crowd for the first time at the 14:00 mark of the second half. Xavier Johnson came out of a scrum for a loose ball firing up the fans and Josh Fortune capped off a mini 5-0 run to bring the CU within 4.
But, as they did throughout the evening the Rams answered back, scoring on an Omogbo layup. Then, two minutes later the Buffs cut the lead to two on a Thomas Akyazili drive that resulted in a three-point play. It would be as close as Colorado would get, the defensive issues that had kept them behind all night finally did them in.
The Rams went on to reel off six straight free throw makes, and then with CU again trailing by six and just 3:12 remaining J.D. Paige hit a dagger of a three to put Colorado State up 9 and out of reach.
“You gotta win ugly sometimes and we weren’t mentally tough enough to win ugly tonight,” said Boyle. “We got our heads down and they stayed down. We didn’t have anybody that could pick us up.”
That’s likely the crucial issue facing this team going forward. At the moment, they lack a definitive leader out on the floor. For a team that possesses four 5th-year seniors, that deficiency becomes especially glaring. If Colorado has any hopes of keeping this season above water, somebody is going to need to emerge as that guy in the very near future.
And beyond that, CU will need some of its experienced players to create more offensively. George King has yet to find the prior season’s form and, aside from the Wofford game, Xavier Johnson has had a quiet senior campaign to this point. If Derrick White is the only one creating for himself and others, the Buffs will find themselves in trouble more often than not.
Lucas Siewert, Deleon Brown, and Bryce Peters are nice pieces and have shown well on offense thus far while providing solid bench minutes but their contributions are meant to supplement the more experienced bulwarks of this lineup.
“If we have to rely on those three guys, it’s going to be a really long year for Colorado basketball and nothing against them, it’s just they’re not ready yet,” said Boyle. “We’ve got other guys who are quote/unquote proven, veteran guys. That’s where it falls. And it falls on me as the head coach at the end of the day.”
Tonight’s result means the meat of the Buffs’ non-conference slate just got a lot tougher. They next travel to Portland to face a tough road environment on Saturday and then 7th-ranked Xavier visits Boulder a week from tonight.
“I knew coming into this game that the next two weeks would tell us a lot about our team and where we are. We’ll find out where this team is toughness-wise, mental toughness-wise, physical toughness-wise next Saturday night in Provo when that game’s over with,” said Boyle. “Life’s about how you respond to adversity and tonight we faced a lot of adversity.”