Brooks: Second-Half Surge Earns Buffs’ First Pac-12 Win
BOULDER – The launch of Pac-12 Conference play Thursday night at the Coors Events Center sprang very few surprises on Colorado coach Tad Boyle. The biggest might have been 6-10 Eric Moreland and his 11th hour reinstatement, but Boyle’s Buffs eventually adjusted to Moreland’s presence, as well as Oregon State’s 2-3 zone, and earned a difficult 64-58 win.
“Good win . . . welcome to Pac-12 Conference play,” a relieved Boyle said. “Nothing’s going to be easy. Anybody who saw the game saw the talent and skill Oregon State has (and) with Moreland back, they’re a different animal . . . they just keep coming at you with athletes off the bench.”
That’s where Moreland, a junior, spent 12 non-conference games, suspended by coach Craig Robinson for a summer violation of team rules. Robinson initially levied a 14-game suspension, but late Wednesday night – on the eve of conference play – announced that Moreland had satisfied whatever was required to return to the court.
The No. 20 Buffs (12-2, 1-0) had prepped for Moreland’s backup – 6-10 senior Angus Brandt – but CU post Josh Scott claimed Moreland’s unexpected return didn’t surprise him: “To be honest I was kind of expecting him to play . . . I don’t know why I figured it but I just did.”
In three games against CU last season, including a 64-58 win at the CEC that stands as the Buffs’ last home loss (Boyle is 54-7 at home), Moreland averaged 10.2 points and 10 rebounds. But his length and athleticism is typical for the Beavers. Said Boyle: “We’re not going to win a jumping contest with Oregon State.”
And in Thursday night’s first half, the Buffs didn’t win the rebound battle either. Moreland got eight first-half boards (10 total, with two points) as Oregon State (8-5, 0-1) out-boarded the Buffs 21-13, marking the first time this season CU has not had a first-half rebounding edge. But after a “come to Tad” halftime address, the Buffs regained their intensity and out-rebounded the Beavs 21-13 in the second half. That might have made Oregon State’s 37-34 edge for the night a little more palatable for Boyle.
His team held the visitors to 37.5 percent from the field – Oregon State arrived shooting 50 percent – and converted 17 OSU turnovers into 25 points. Those numbers, bolstered by the Buffs’ nine steals, helped them overcome a mediocre shooting night; CU finished 38.2 percent from the field (21-of-55) and hit only five of its 20 3-point attempts.
“The best thing is we won when we didn’t shoot the ball well,” Boyle said.
CU overtook Oregon State with a 13-3 run in the final 8 minutes, but sealed the win by hitting five of eight free throws in the last 1:49 after the Beavers rallied from a 12-point deficit and closed to within four points.
Three Buffs were in double figures – Jaron Hopkins, Askia Booker and Scott, each with 13 points. Scott also had 10 of the Buffs’ 34 rebounds. The Beavers got 23 points from Roberto Nelson, the Pac-12’s leading scorer with a 21-point average. Nelson got 16 of his total Thursday night in the second half and was three-of-five from 3-point range.
The Buffs led 28-23 at halftime, but getting that five-point advantage was a major struggle. The Beavers’ 2-3 zone, which reminded Boyle of Syracuse’s traditional defense, made almost everything the Buffs attempted a challenge, most notably shooting and rebounding. Neither team led by more than five points in the first 20 minutes, with Oregon State’s largest advantage being 10-5 on a pair of Nelson free throws at the 13:26 mark.
Moreland entered the game with 16:33 left before halftime and right away collected the first of his eight first-half rebounds. In 13 minutes, he also had an assist and a blocked shot – but his rustiness showed in committing four of Oregon State’s 12 first-half turnovers. Those led to 15 CU points and were largely responsible for the Buffs’ halftime advantage.
The Buffs opened the second half with a steal by Booker that led to an inside basket by Scott to take a 30-23 lead. And the Beavers were about to see more of Scott, who delivered a soft jump hook for the Buffs’ next basket.
After a Spencer Dinwiddie trey put CU up by seven (35-28), Wes Gordon hit one of two free throws and Scott added a put-back to push the Buffs to their first double-digit lead – 38-28 with 16:28 to play. But it wouldn’t last; Oregon State outscored CU 12-2 over the next 51/2 minutes to tie the score at 40-40 with 10:35 left.
The Buffs had an immediate answer in forwards Xavier Johnson and Gordon. “XJ” contributed a pair of tip dunks – the second following a Gordon block – and Gordon hit a short jumper to ignite a 13-3 run that restored the Buffs’ 10-point (53-43) lead.
“I mean, coach preaches defensive rebounding,” Johnson, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds, said of his tip-dunks. “I pretty much just followed Spencer and Wesley up on the shots and was able to get the tip dunks. They were good momentum swings for the team.”
Two minutes later, the Buffs would stretch their lead to 12 (58-46) on a three-point play by Johnson. But the Beavers were far from done. They closed to 60-56 on a 3-pointer from the right wing by freshman Malcolm Duvivier with 2:11 left, prompting a timeout by Boyle.
Dinwiddie hit one of two free throws (61-56) at the 1:49 mark, added two more (63-56) with 41.2 seconds to play and when Buffs guard Xavier Talton chased down a long rebound in the final 15 seconds, the Beavs were done. Johnson hit one of two foul shots for CU’s final point.
Boyle pointed to Talton’s late rebound and “XJ” outdueling OSU’s Devon Collier for a “50-50” ball as the plays of the game. Said Boyle: “Those were hustle plays, the 50-50 balls, the long rebounds, the loose balls that we had to come up with – and we did tonight.”
He’s hoping the intensity remains at a high level on Sunday afternoon. No. 10 Oregon, which remained unbeaten (13-0, 1-0) with an overtime win Thursday night at Utah, visits the CEC. “We need a sellout, we need this place rocking,” Boyle said. “We need a Kansas-type crowd effort on Sunday.”