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Buffs Throttle USC For Key Road Win

Dec 31, 2020
McKinley Wright  had 19 points in CU's win over USC on Thursday.

WATCH: Tad Boyle Postgame | WATCH: McKinley Wright IV Postgame | WATCH: D'Shawn Schwartz Postgame | Notes | Stats (PDF) | Boxscore

 

LOS ANGELES — Colorado fought off a second-half USC rally and regained control down the stretch Thursday night as the Buffaloes collected a key 72-62 road win at the Galen Center.

The victory, CU's fifth in a row over the Trojans, improved Tad Boyle's Buffs to 7-2 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play while USC fell to 5-2, 0-1.

McKinley Wright IV led CU with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists. CU's D'Shawn Schwartz added 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds for his first career double-double, Evan Battey had 11 points and Jeriah Horne had 10.

Defensively, the Buffs were outstanding against a team that entered the game leading the Pac-12 in scoring and shooting percentage. CU held the Trojans' leading scorer, 7-foot Evan Mobley, to 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting as the Trojans shot just 38.3% (23-for-60). CU also held a 38-35 rebound edge that led to a 16-10 Colorado edge in second-chance points.

The Buffs' defensive effort was magnified by the fact that they played without 7-footer Dallas Walton, who missed the game with a lower leg injury.

"Obviously a road win against a quality team in this league, they're hard to come by," Boyle said. "USC is long, they're tall, they have good athletes. I thought our guys really battled tonight and showed a lot of grit and a lot of toughness."

After five early lead changes, Colorado took a 15-12 edge on a Schwartz 3-pointer six minutes into the game and never trailed again, but the Trojans didn't succumb easily. CU saw a double-digit lead in the first half shrink to one momentarily and another double-digit cushion narrowed to two in the second half.

But the Buffs had an answer for every USC rally and finally took control in the final minutes to clinch the win.

HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado led 44-33 lead at intermission after finishing the first half with a 12-2 run, then pushed the margin to 15 early in the second half on a Jabari Walker tip-in, 50-35.

But the Trojans surged back into the game. With Wright on the bench after his third foul, USC used a 9-0 run to narrow Colorado's lead to just two, 57-55, with 9:41 still to play.

The Buffs, however, righted themselves after a timeout and slowly rebuilt their lead, putting together an 11-3 surge to take a 68-58 lead with 1:38 to play. Schwartz had four free throws to start the run and Battey finished it with a 3-point play, grabbing an offensive rebound for a putback, then hitting a free throw after getting fouled.

Battery also played a big role in keeping USC's Mobley brothers in control for most of the night, especially with Walton not available. Evan and Isaiah Mobley came into the game averaging a combined 27.5 points and 17.5 rebounds per game, but finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds.

"Evan is a warrior,"  Boyle said. "He plays with such heart, such passion, such intensity. He did a really good job tonight of staying out of foul trouble (ended up with two). He just battles. He's got the heart of a lion."

Schwartz, meanwhile, hit the boards all night for his career high 10 rebounds, and tallied his 13 points despite having just one 3-pointer. The CU senior was a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

"He's big, he's strong and I thought he really battled on the boards tonight," Boyle said. "He played well tonight. He really competed."

Wright, meanwhile, delivered his usual clutch performance. After USC pulled to within 61-58 with just under seven minutes to play, the Buffs' senior point guard hit back-to-back floaters from the lane to give CU a seven-point cushion and breathing room. 

Colorado then held the Trojans off down the stretch for the win.

After an early see-saw affair, the Buffs took control with a 7-0 run that produced a 32-21 lead. Jabari Walker and Keeshawn Barthelemy had 3-pointers in the surge, with Wright assisting on both.

But following a timeout, the Trojans answered with a 10-run to shave CU's cushion to just one, as the Buffs went cold over a four-minute stretch. 

The drought prompted a Boyle timeout, and the Buffs responded with a 12-2 burst to close the half and take a 44-33 lead into intermission. Schwartz had four points to start the run, including a fastbreak dunk after a Walker block on the defensive end. Wright drained a long 3-pointer with 1:25 to go in the half and Jeriah Horne capped the half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Buffs shot 53.3 percent from the field in the first half (16-for-30) and held a 9-3 edge in second-chance points and a 14-6 edge in points off the bench.

SHOUTOUT TO KLINGSMITH: Boyle gave a post-game nod to Buffs trainer Rawley Klingsmith, who was instrumental in getting Wright ready to play. CU's senior guard left the Arizona game Monday with an ankle injury, but was ready to play Thursday.

"We have a great trainer," Boyle said. "People don't talk about college basketball trainers enough, especially in years like this year, with all of the things he has on his plate with testing and protocols and contact tracing.  Then he's got to keep our guys healthy mentally and physically. He's an important part of our success. He doesn't get talked about enough."

TURNING POINT: After the Trojans had cut CU's lead to just two, 57-55, in the second half with a 9-0 run, Schwartz hit four straight free throws to start an 11-3 Colorado surge that was also helped by Wright's return to the game. CU then maintained control down the stretch.

WHAT IT MEANS: Now 1-1 on their conference-opening road trip, the Buffs have a chance to pick up another victory Saturday at UCLA and return home with plenty of momentum for a four-game homestand.

KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs held USC to just 38.3 percent shooting … Colorado also won the rebound battle, 38-35, leading to a 16-10 edge in second-chance points … The Buffs, among the nation's leaders in free throw shooting, continue to connect from the line, as they hit 14 of their 16 tries,

NEXT UP: The Buffs wrap up their three-game road trip Saturday at UCLA in a 6 p.m. game at Pauley Pavilion.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu