The Buffaloes nearly fell prey to another series of mental lapses. This time, however, they managed to do enough offensively midway through the second half and defensively at the end of the game to keep the surging Falcons at bay.
“This was a good win, we found a way,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “We missed six free throws down the stretch, I felt like we should have been up 15 at half but we weren’t because we turned the ball over but we found a way to win.”
After a rough and sloppy start on both ends of the floor that featured 12 first half Colorado turnovers, the Buffs found their footing working the inside-out game and closed out the frame on a 17-6 run.
“I think that was why we were turning the ball over. We were trying to get the ball inside aggressively,” said George King. “Our emphasis was, take care of the ball but also stay aggressive while doing that, which is what you saw in the second half but we stopped guarding. We’ve got to be able to do both.”
Air Force would answer back in the opening moments of the second half, outscoring Colorado 12-5 and wresting back the lead from the Buffs. At this point, it looked as though it would go down to the wire and the same mistakes that have haunted CU in their three losses this season would reappear.
“Things are being said on the court, we notice it and we talk about it,” said King of the mistakes that lead to opponent runs. “It’s way easier said than done. That’s why we practice and why we work on things to get better."
Instead, the Buffs began making threes and finding ways to capitalize in the paint while building up an 8-point lead. Then with just over five minutes remaining Colorado utilized a quick 7-0 run to push the lead up to 13.
The Falcons would claw to within 5, taking advantage of missed opportunities on Colorado’s end and scoring 8 straight points. It wouldn’t be enough, as the Buffs clamped down defensively to prevent another Air Force bucket in the final minute.
While Colorado managed to close out a game that they stood a very real chance of losing, a multitude of questions remain unanswered. Most alarmingly, the Buffs were outrebounded 38-33 by a much smaller Air Force team.
“I think it’s boxing out, they had 15 offensive rebounds so I’d start with that,” said Boyle. “You always start with offensive rebounds and limit those. 15 is not boxing out and guards not helping us out. It’s pathetic, there’s no other word for it.”
Aside from Wesley Gordon’s near double-double, the bright spot of the night was the play of Deleon Brown. The freshman logged 24 minutes, scoring 10 points and dishing out 4 assists while playing solid defense and creating for his teammates off the ball.
“His efficiency numbers are something we looked at and we inserted him as that first guard off the bench here these last couple games,” said Boyle. “He’s a good player and we need him. But the freshman are the least of my concerns, I’m concerned about those upper-classmen and what they’re getting done because that’s what going to help us win games."
These senior-laden Buffs have yet to put a truly quality 40-minute effort together and they now have just one more game and a short holiday break to grapple with the big questions before the real show begins.
“This team right now, we have one game before the Pac-12 and we haven’t played to our capabilities yet,” said Boyle. “Part of that is encouraging but the other part is like, what are we waiting for?”