The shots were falling out of the gate on Sunday night but ultimately, as the Buffs walked off the floor carrying the weight of their 5th consecutive defeat, so were the odds of salvaging their season.
“Our team is hurting right now. This is a time where we’re being tested and we have to believe in ourselves,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “The bottom line is we weren’t good enough tonight. We weren’t good enough defensively in terms of finishing off possessions. 17 offensive rebounds defensively and 17 turnovers on offense, a pretty simple formula for getting beat.”
With 2:45 remaining in the game USC opened up a 7-point lead, its largest advantage of the night, following what looked to be a dagger three from Jonah Mathews. The Buffs would claw back from there rattling off 8 straight points to pull ahead 68-67 on the strength of two remarkable threes and one large rebound from Xavier Johnson.
With a chance to again retake the lead following a Chimezie Metu bucket George King missed a wild layup attempt which was then pulled in by Metu, who nearly singled-handedly won the game for the Trojans. The Buffs got one more look at a tie down three, but King’s attempt to lean in to a three-pointer came up short.
“I was trying to give myself a chance to get to the line by leaning into my defender, Mathews,” said King. “It looked on line but it didn’t go in.”
In what was a fairly even second frame both teams struggled through prolonged shooting droughts. USC went over 7 minutes without a score from the field between De’Anthony Melton’s tip in and Mathews’ three while the Buffs endured a 6-minute field goal drought between layups from Johnson and Derrick White.
“What happens to us is the ball sticks and it doesn’t move,” said Boyle. “When it sticks we’re easy to guard and when it moves we’re really hard to guard. I thought Tory (Miller) gave us a post presence in there for a stretch but outside of that we really had no inside game.”
While the Buffs got most of their scoring from the outside, making 11 three pointers, the Trojans dominated the block on both ends of the floor. USC outscored the Buffaloes 36-22 in the paint and pulled down 17 crucial offensive boards en route to earning 16 second chance points.
At the end of the night Colorado found itself severely outplayed inside which, combined with 17 turnovers that lead to 20 USC points, kept them winless in Pac-12 play.
“Going from practice or the locker room to the game floor we have to get it done, and right now we’re not getting it done,” said Boyle. “That’s the bottom line. This is about winning, it’s a zero sum game that we play. There’s a winner and a loser each time we step on the floor and right now we gotta figure out how to come up on the positive side of that.”
USC’s Metu, who did get it done, led all scorers with 24 points and took advantage of the soft interior of Colorado’s defense throughout the first half. He was largely held in check during the second frame due to foul trouble and an increased defensive focus but still managed to score the decisive points and claim a decisive rebound.
“We just tried to font him a little bit more and really be three-quarters and not let the ball come into him as easily,” said Boyle. “He’s a good player, obviously made a big-time play at the end. He’s a terrific basketball player.”
The Buffaloes now head back out on the road with their at-large tourney hopes likely dashed. This team has shown flashes, but it has a long way to go towards achieving consistency and potentially making a late-season run.
“It’s about the next game, the next opportunity. I’m not gonna change my tune midway,” said Boyle. “We’ve got guys that have won before, that understand what it takes to win. We’re just not getting it done right now. It’s on me as a head coach and on our assistant coaches and it’s on our players. We have to get this thing turned and that’s our challenge right now.”
-CU is 0-5 in league play for the first time since the 1995-96 season, the last Big 8 conference campaign. The 5 game skid is the longest of the Boyle era and longest since the Buffs lost their final 12 games of the 2008-09 season.
-Tonight marked USC’s first win in Boulder in 6 tries, cutting CU’s overall series lead to 9-5. Colorado won the first seven Pac-12 meetings, USC has now won the last two.
-Colorado lost for the first time this year when leading at the half (6-1). This was the first time in the last six games where the Buffaloes had led at halftime (35-34).
-CU had four players score in double digits. The Buffs had won their first seven games when at least four players achieved double figures but have now lost two straight (5 were in double digits against UCLA).
-Xavier Johnson finished with 15 points to lead the Buffs, jumping him to 19th on CU’s all-time scoring list with 1,261 total.