Oklahoma State came to Boulder on Saturday with a healthy 18-3 record, two of the best players in the Big 12 in their starting lineup in Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry and a reputation for playing tough, physical basketball.
The Buffs, the conference's last-place team, the one with seven scholarship freshmen on its roster and a ledger filled with disappointing performances in the past month, however, weren't intimidated.
"Honestly, I go into every game thinking we have a chance to win," Ricardo Patton, coaching one of his final games at the Coors Events Center, said afterward.
To get the win, Colorado used something they haven't shown much of this season: really good defense. Especially in the first half, the Buffs frustrated an Oklahoma State team used to scoring 80 points a game.
While the two teams traded punches for the first 15 minutes, the Buffs broke open a 44-29 halftime lead by going on a 19-3 run the final 4:34 of the first half. Freshmen Kal Bay and Xavier Silas sparked the run with 3 pointers (Bay hit two, Silas added another at the buzzer).
The Cowboys clawed their way back in the second half. When guard JamesOn Curry converted a 3-point play (layup and foul shot) with 3:04 to play, it pulled OSU to within six points, 76-70. This is where CU has seemed to fold up its tent and go home when they were in games late earlier this season. Not this time.
Though Colorado managed just nine offensive rebounds Saturday, center Marcus King-Stockton came up with a huge one at the 1:50 mark and the Buffs clinging to a six-point lead. He got the ball to Richard Roby, who was fouled and sank his two foul shots.
In fact, the Buffs scored just one field goal in the final five minutes, but were a stellar 16 of 19 from the foul line in the same span. It was enough to send the nation's No. 12 team packing with only their fourth loss of the season.
CU held OSU to 38.8 percent from the field.
"It was finally good to see our guys step up and play a great defensive game," Patton said. "They've worked hard enough to deserve some success."
Guard Dominique Coleman came off the bench to match Bay's game-high 21 points. Coleman was a beast on the boards, too. The 6-3 player had 15 boards — more than OSU's starting forwards Boggan (8) and Marcus Dove (6) combined to pull down.
"Dominique Coleman – I can't say enough about him," Patton said, noting he had challenged Coleman at the half to get 16 boards.
Bay, who broke the Cowboys' hearts with five 3-pointers, said the Buffs left the bickering that had plagued them in recent games behind on Saturday.
"We were focused the entire game," he said. "If we made a mistake, it was no big deal. We just kept going."
Surely, no one saw the upset coming in Boulder. But Colorado made it happen, moving to 6-13 overall, 2-7 in conference.
Was it a breakthrough moment for the team? Patton was cautious when asked that after the game.
"Certainly, this team took a step in the right direction," he said.
We'll have to wait a week to see if the Buffs can keep moving in that same direction. Their next game is at Kansas State Feb. 10.
Notes: Patton's teams at Colorado are now a remarkable 72-1 when leading by double-digits points at halftime.
Points: Dominique Coleman, Kal Bay 21
Rebounds: Coleman 15
Assists: Jermyl Jackson-Wilson 5
Turnovers: Richard Roby 5
Blocks: three with one
Steals: Jeremy Williams, Coleman 2
Points: JamesOn Curry 20
Rebounds: Mario Boggan 8
Assists: Byron Eaton 4
Turnovers: Boggan 4
Blocks: Curry 2
Steals: Curry 2