CONWAY, SC — The three losses suffered by the Colorado men’s basketball team so far this season have more in common than the perplexing nature of the opponents, given the Buffaloes have also defeated a pair of ranked teams.
For a team that has the potential to be a rugged defensive squad, that defense hasn’t answered the bell until it’s too late.
CU’s latest setback, a 68-55 defeat against Boise State on Sunday in the finale of the Myrtle Beach Invitational, followed the same blueprint.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us, going back and forth win-loss, win-loss” CU wing Nique Clifford said. “We’ve got to play harder as a team. We got out-toughed tonight. That’s the biggest key for us is just being tougher.”
In each of CU’s losses, the defense has not been there early. Against the Broncos on Sunday, Boise State shot .515 (17-for-33) while making 7 of 13 3-point attempts. The Broncos entered the game with a lowly .270 mark (20-for-74) on 3-pointers through their first four games.
That has been a familiar refrain. Grambling State also went 17-for-33 in the first half of a win against the Buffs on Nov. 11, and UMass shot .533 (16-for-30) in the first half while defeating Colorado in the first game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Thursday.
CU’s defense was more effective in the second half against the Broncos, limiting Boise to a 7-for-29 mark overall with a 1-for-10 showing on 3-pointers. But the Buffs weren’t any better themselves after the break (8-for-30 overall, 1-10 3-pointers), making the early deficit too much to overcome.
“They were a tougher team than us,” CU head Coach Tad Boyle said. “It’s no more simple than that. They’re Tougher on defense and they’re Tougher on offense. They run their stuff better.”
CU played its second game without leading rebounder J’Vonne Hadley, who suffered a right shoulder injury on Thursday against UMass. A Buffs team already short on depth on the front court suffered another setback early in the second half against Boise State when junior forward Tristan da Silva took a shot to his head. He exited with 14 minutes, 49 seconds remaining and did not return after recording nine points and four rebounds.
“They took a shot to the head. “Tristan struggles with migraines,” Boyle said. “That was part of it, and he wasn’t able to come back. We missed him. We beat Texas A&M virtually without him (due to foul trouble). When he’s out and J’Vonne Hadley’s out, we’re pretty exposed in that front line. I said before the season we have to stay healthy there and we have to get consistent play from the guys who are on the front line. But when J’Vonne Hadley’s out and Tristan da Silva’s out, it puts a lot of pressure on Lawson (Lovering) and Luke (O’Brien) and Jalen Gabbidon.”
CU had another injury scare late when point guard KJ Simpson had his right ankle rolled during a scramble for a loose ball. He returned to the game but clearly was not at full strength.
“A guy fell under my ankle,” Simpson said. “It is what it is. I’m not going to quit on my guys. We win together, we lose together. I’ll be fine. I’m a dog. I’m good.”
Two years ago, the Buffs set a team record and made a run at the NCAA record with an .819 free throw percentage.
None of CU’s current players played a huge role in compiling that mark, but they did last year when the Buffs posted a .756 mark, which ranked fourth in team history. Yet one of the most surprising aspects of the early stages this season has been the Buffs’ struggles at the free throw line. CU went just 13-for-23 at the line against Boise State, dropping their season percentage through six games to .677 (90-for-133).
“It was an issue for us against UMass as well,” Clifford said. “Free throws are gimmie buckets and the team just has to get in the gym and work on it on our own, including myself. We’ve missed a lot of opportunities where we could be a lot closer in these games just by making free throws. I think it’s mental, just stepping up and being confident at the line.”
Boise State went 10-for-10 at the free throw line in the final five minutes…UMass, which defeated the Buffs on Thursday, captured the tournament Championship with a 60-54 win against Charlotte…UMass guard Noah Fernandes was named tournament MVP after averaging 15 points in the Minutemen’s three wins. Fernandes scored 22 points in the win against CU and also hit the winner at the buzzer in UMass’ semifinal win against Murray State.