Brooks: Buffs Survive Bison’s Second-Half Surge, Win 84-75

BOULDER – Easy like Sunday morning? Not for the Buffs. From now until it opens Pac-12 Conference play in January, the Colorado men’s basketball team shouldn’t expect to experience anything like what was supposed to be a Sunday stroll past Lipscomb.

The Buffs finally dispatched their southern visitor from the Atlantic Sun Conference, 84-75, at the Coors Events Center, yet they – and the Bison – made this win harder than it probably should have been.

In a week – Sunday, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. MT – CU plays at Georgia in its second road trip of the season. And by then, after the Buffs end their current three-game homestand with a Wednesday night encounter against San Francisco (8 p.m.), coach Tad Boyle is expecting his team to have sharpened considerably in most every facet.

As in the aftermath of his team’s 68-53 win against Air Force five days earlier, Boyle had no problem pointing to likes, dislikes, positive possessions and those that were not so much. But, said Boyle, “It’s what this time of year is all about – it’s about growing, learning and figuring out what it is that you have to improve on.”

There is plenty. On this Sunday, CU (4-1) won its 22nd consecutive non-conference home game. But the Buffs squandered a 24-point first-half lead as the Bison (2-4) went on a second-half 3-point tear and pulled to within six points twice in the final 5:43. So, in Boyle’s mind, plenty of “growing, learning and figuring” remain to be done.

The Buffs survived mainly because of the inside play of Josh Scott, who recorded season highs in points (29) and rebounds (13) for his 17th career double-double. Scott’s 10 field goals (12 attempts) were a career best, and he hit nine of 10 free throw attempts.

 “He’s a heck of a player,” said Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander. “We knew that coming in. We didn’t defend him the way we intended to obviously . . . he caught the ball too close to the rim, got too good of looks. When a player gets that, then we’re going to get the results we got.”

Scott put his team’s up-and-down afternoon in perspective. “A win’s a win,” he said. “You know obviously there’s a lot of things for us to improve on . . . I think it was exciting as well as disappointing for this game.”

CU senior Askia Booker added season highs in points (18) and assists (7) and said he is returning to form after a sub-par start: “It’s about that time, four games is long enough. I owed it to my team. I had some other stuff I was dealing with personally. I think that I’ve shown I let it get to my head.

“But I tried to keep my energy up throughout those games and to stay positive with my teammates’ help . . . I think my head is clear.”

The Buffs also got 10 points from Xavier Johnson, who was a team best 2-for-3 from 3-point range. He hit both of his triples in the first half, when CU went 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. The Buffs finished the afternoon 6-for-16 from long range.

Lipscomb also had three players in double figures – Nathan Moran with 17, Martin Smith with 13 and Josh Williams with 11. Moran, a 5-9 freshman, hit five of his nine 3-point attempts as the Bison connected on 13 of their 33 treys, including 8 of 16 in the second half when they staged their comeback.

“The three-point basket is the great equalizer in college basketball,” said Boyle, adding that his players should have recognized Moran’s forte and defended him. “We didn’t do a great job of guarding the three-ball, but we had done a pretty good job this year up until today. We need to recognize that, learn from it and get better.”

As for squandering large leads and regaining momentum, Boyle pointed to “getting stops” as the key ingredient in a simple recipe. “We should have won 84-65, but we didn’t,” he said. The Buffs haven’t yet developed a mindset that prioritizes defense, but it needs to develop soon and keep building.

Boyle again issued a call for accountability among his players, saying the genesis for that shouldn’t have to come from him or his assistants: “I think in great programs you have players holding players accountable, and that’s the point I’d like to get to.”

The Bison used 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone defenses for a large part of the game, which Boyle said was expected. He also said he believes the Buffs are a “good zone offensive team and I think today proved that.” But he added that CU needs to be consistent from the perimeter; Sunday’s field goal percentage was 55.1 percent, but Scott’s 10-for-12 boosted that figure.

Boyle pointed to a large percentage of inside baskets – CU scored 40 points in the paint to Lipscomb’s 24 – and said teams that prefer zone defenses (unless they’re Syracuse) do so because “they can’t guard you in man-to-man – and we have to understand that . . . I have confidence that if someone zones up for 40 minutes we should be licking our chops.

The Buffs had little trouble cruising to a 49-35 halftime lead, although they lapsed in the first half’s final 3:40 and let a 24-point advantage (44-20) dwindle to 14. During that stretch, the Bison outscored the Buffs 13-3 – and it was a sign of what was coming in the second half.

Still, CU was clearly in command from the opening tip, taking an 8-0 lead and holding Lipscomb  without a field goal until the 16:12 mark, when 6-11, 310-pound Chad Lang drove the lane and scored on a soft hook that banked in.

But neither Lang nor anyone else in the Bison front court was a match for Scott, who finished the half with 14 points and scored 10 of the Buffs’ first 21 points. Scott also collected six rebounds, leading CU to an 18-11 first-half advantage in that category. He added seven more boards in the second half as the Buffs won that battle 41-27.

Booker scored 13 of his total in the first half and, like Scott, was 4-of-4 from the free throw line. The Buffs missed only one of their 14 first-half free throw attempts and were 24-of-34 for the game.

The Buffs’ ball movement was more along the lines of what Boyle is seeking; his team registered 13 first-half assists on 16 field goals and finished the game with 20 assists on their 27 baskets.

“We’re talented and when we get the ball moving and share it with each other I think we can be special,” Scott said. “I scored a lot of points off of assists; it’s fun to play that way. I was able to get Askia a shot (kicking the ball out). I mean that way of playing basketball is a lot of fun.”

Boyle’s biggest second-half concern might have been the possibility of his players lapsing again and the Bison heating up – and both happened. CU kept its double-digit lead until Williams connected on a 3-pointer to bring Lipscomb to 72-65 with 7:20 remaining.

With 5:43 left, Lipscomb pulled to within 67-61 on a two more treys by Brett Wishon and Martin Smith. Scott answered with five straight points and Booker added a jumper to restore an 11-point (74-63) CU advantage.

Then, just over 3 minutes later, it was Moran’s turn. He drained consecutive treys to bring the Bison back from that 11-point deficit and cut the Buffs’ lead to 78-71 with 2:10 to play.  

Johnson’s pair of free throws with 1:39 left put CU up 80-71, but 8 seconds later Martin Smith closed the gap to 80-74 with three free throws. Six points back was as close as Lipscomb could manage the rest of the way.

Booker said Boyle “was happy about the win, but he was saying these past two games we’ve lost the second half. If we can’t finish out games against teams like Air Force and Lipscomb, what happens when we play UCLA or Arizona or any team better than them? We just have to put two halves together.”

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU

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