ORLANDO, Fla. — No. 4 seed Central Florida held off Colorado's late rally for a 79-74 victory on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.
Colorado used a 15-4 run in a 1:28 span to pull within three points with 14 seconds left. Derrick White made a three-pointer and converted a three-point play during the stretch. Wesley Gordon, Lucas Siewert, and Xavier Johnson also hit threes for the Buffaloes.
Central Florida's A.J. Davis split a pair of free throws to make it 77-74. White missed a three-pointer on Colorado's next possession, and Davis grabbed the rebound and made two free throws to seal it. The Buffaloes finished the season 19-15, marking just the second time in the seven-year Boyle era that Colorado failed to reach 21 wins.
“This game kind of encapsulates our whole season when you look at it from a lot of different perspectives,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said during his post-game interview on 760 AM. “We dug a hole, we battled, we had to overcome a lot of adversity. I am proud of our fight but at some point in these high level games you have to make shots. And there were shots to be made. We had some open looks that we didn't make.
“At halftime, they were shooting 61.5 percent and were out-rebounding us by a wide margin. We evened the boards up but our defense wasn't good enough tonight. It wasn't good enough all year. We didn't guard the three-point line very well, our ball-screen defense failed us, and we weren't able to dominate the boards.”
White scored 30 points, made three three-pointers and had six assists to lead No. 5 seed Colorado. Johnson finished with 13 points. It was the final game with the Buffs for both, as well as Gordon and Josh Fortune.
“They have been a big part of Colorado basketball,” Boyle said of the departing seniors. "Wes and X.J. have been here for five years and have been part of some great wins and really helped elevate this program. Derrick had as good a one-year season as anybody I've ever coached. I just can't say enough about him. Josh Fortune really battled and I know he had a disappointing senior year for what his expectations were.
“But I appreciate what they have brought, what they have done. They are all going to graduate, which is the good news. And hopefully the lessons they learned as a Colorado basketball player will be with them and serve them well as they move on in their lives.”
Barring attrition, the Buffaloes are set to return Bryce Peters, Dominique Collier, Deleon Brown, Thomas Akyazili, George King, Tory Miller and Siewert for the 2017-18 campaign. Missouri transfer Namon Wright will be eligible to play on the wing, and Dallas Walton and Alexander Strating will also be in the mix after redshirting.
“They got to get better. This is as important an off-season for the guys coming back as we've ever had,” Boyle said. “It is always important, don't get me wrong, but this year especially because of what we lost. You look at the minutes X.J. and Derrick White played and the production they gave us, our top two leading scorers are gone. Wesley, one of our better rebounders and shot blockers is gone. We need to have great off-seasons for every one of these guys returning, to a man.”
Three talented signees – D'Shawn Schwartz, Evan Battey and Tyler Bey – are also expected to arrive in Boulder this summer. Boyle called the 2017 recruiting class the best they have had in his time at Colorado.
“Those freshmen need to come in and understand they have to give us some minutes. I am not saying all three of them do, but certainly a couple of them will be counted on,” Boyle said. “That is one of the reasons we had such a good recruiting class. We sold them on the fact that, hey, you are going to be an impact player.”
Boyle announced the team will take a trip to Europe to play in some exhibition games this August. College basketball teams are allowed to travel internationally in the off-season once every four years.
“Hopefully that will give us a jump start on next season,” Boyle said.