Buffs Slog Through Easy Win Against Hawks
BOULDER - Colorado mostly went through the motions Wednesday night in dispatching outmanned Maryland Eastern Shore 92-65 at the Coors Events Center.
If there is an upside, this is it: Even in going through the motions against an inferior opponent, the motions might be getting better - a promising sign with Big 12 Conference play only 10 days away.
But first-year CU Coach Tad Boyle had trouble seeing it that way. He shouldered the blame for a lackluster start that seeped through most of the opening half until the Buffs got their heads, ah, back into their assignments.
"It was not our best effort, but I'd rather learn from a win than a loss," Boyle said. "I was not real pleased with our effort, especially in the first half."
UMES Coach Frankie Allen looked at the opening half differently. He said he and his team will head home "feeling good about a half of basketball against a Big 12 opponent. As the game wore on, we just became a little bit dysfunctional. We've got to do a better job of being a little more consistent in how we do things as the game goes on . . . There were some good spots but not enough."
Boyle pointed to a college hoops philosophy that maintains in a 30-game season, "There's probably five games where you play below your capability and stink it up, there's probably five games where you play above your heads, and the other 20 games probably are what you really are (as a team)."
Wednesday's night offering, in Boyles' eyes, was firmly positioned among that funky five. "I don't necessarily feel like we got better as a basketball program," he said, "but we will tomorrow."
Perhaps in spite of themselves, the Buffs won their 20th consecutive non-conference home game, a streak that includes eight straight this season. They reached their seasonal scoring average (83.6, eighth nationally) and once again achieved it through balance. Four CU players hit double figures - Austin Dufault with 18 and Cory Higgins, Marcus Relphorde and Alec Burks with 15 each.
But Dufault, following his coach's lead, wasn't pleased with the night's work.
"It's definitely disappointing because we talk all the time about trying to hold ourselves to our own standard and hold ourselves accountable, and not play to the level of competition," Dufault said. "Mentally, I just thought that we weren't really there . . . it showed in the first half especially."
The Buffs gave up three three-pointers to open the game, underscoring Boyle's on-going pleas for better on-ball defense, and quickly fell behind 11-7. They took their first lead on a three-pointer by Levi Knutson that was set up by three crisp passes on the perimeter, the last going from point guard Nate Tomlinson (six assists) to Knutson on the left wing.
His trey sent CU ahead 14-13 with 14:50 remaining in the half, and Boyle admitted that unselfish ball movement offered an occasional bright spot for the Buffs.
"We moved the ball at times; we had 19 assists," he said. "Individually there were some great efforts . . . there were some positive things to take from it, but some things to learn as well."
Still, it took the Buffs nearly 15 minutes to gain any real separation from the Hawks, an undersized Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) team that had lost four of its previous five games before venturing West.
But when CU (9-4) finally pulled itself together and began pulling away, it was done convincingly. And UMES (3-9) didn't have an answer.
After Mark Robertson's trey tied the score at 30-30, CU embarked on a 16-3 run to close out the final 6:11 of the first half. That burst put the Buffs up 46-33 at intermission - it was their biggest first-half lead - and finally coaxed what had been a lethargic Events Center crowd back into the game.
The points in CU's run mostly came from Burks (eight) and Relphorde (six), with a pair of Dufault free throws accounting for the others.
Relphorde finished the half with eight points, all scored in the final 11 minutes. He took a hit to the face on the game's opening possession, went to the bench and didn't return until the 10:26 mark.
"I took an elbow to the nose," Relphorde said. "It shook me up, but I'm all right."
Once back on the court, he made up for his missed minutes, hitting all four of his field goal attempts, collecting two rebounds and getting an assist on a spectacular fast-break slam by Burks midway during the Buffs' decisive run.
CU shot a spectacular 72 percent from the field (18-of-25) in the first half and had 10 assists on those 18 baskets (19 on 34 baskets for the night). UMES was held to 42.9 percent shooting (12-of-28) in the first 20 minutes, with four-of-nine three-point marksmanship allowing the Hawks to stay competitive in the early minutes.
For the game, the Buffs shot 59.6 percent (34-of-57) from the field while limiting the Hawks to 41.7 percent (25-of-60). CU won the board battle 39-25 and outscored UMES 48-22 in the paint.
UMES outscored CU 9-4 in the first 3:09 of the second half and cut its deficit to single digits (50-42). But the Buffs quickly regrouped with an 11-4 surge and pushed their lead to 15 (61-46) with just over 12 minutes remaining.
From there, maintaining audience participation was going to be a difficult task. Leading 78-57, CU used reserves for the game's final 6 minutes and took its largest lead of the night to that point - 87-60 - on a Trey Eckloff trey with 2:14 remaining.
On the scoreboard, it looked like a decisive win, but Relphorde said the Buffs "need to get better at everything . . . I think a lot of times we play good defense for 20 or 25 seconds - and then it's one little letdown. A lot of it is mental, too. Somebody may tip a ball in and score, or get by somebody last second.
"I think we just need to focus in on the whole 35 seconds."
The Buffs have two non-conference games remaining before they begin conference play on Jan. 8 against Missouri. They travel to Cal State Bakersfield on Sunday, then return to the Events Center on Jan. 5 to face Western New Mexico.