Buffs Fall To Southern Illinois In Paradise Jam Opener
ST. THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — Colorado couldn't contain Southern Illinois' 3-point shooters Friday and the Buffaloes dropped a 67-63 decision in the first round of the Paradise Jam.
Tad Boyle's Buffs, who fell to 3-1 with the loss, will face Duquesne in a 3:45 p.m. game Saturday. Duquesne lost to Northeastern, 71-55, in its opener. The Salukis improved to 2-1 and will face Northeastern on Sunday.
Jabari Walker led CU with 16 points. Tristan da Silva added 15 points and 7 rebounds while Evan Battey and Keeshawn Barthelemy each had 12 points.
Steven Verplancken led the Salukis with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Marcus Domask added 17 points, as SIU drained 12 treys in the game.
Colorado jumped out to a 12-1 early lead but saw the Salukis knock down five 3-pointers to come back to take an eight-point lead, 27-19, by halftime. CU managed to narrow the gap to three at several junctures in the second half and had it down to two with 1:33 to play, but could never completely get over the hump. Every time the Buffs threatened to take the lead, the Salukis seemed to answer with a 3-pointer.
"That was the key to the game," Boyle said. "After the game, I look at our defensive keys and there it was … The No. 2 most important thing to beat Southern Illinois, defend the three. We didn't do it. … We did not execute defensively like we're capable. We shot 50 percent from the field. That's good enough to win a game, but it wasn't good enough tonight."
Colorado finished 25-for-50 from the field, including 17-for-26 in the second half, but SIU's 12-for-29 night from long range provided the difference.
CU also hit only 9 of 15 free throw attempts, including two misses in the final minutes, and is shooting just over 70 percent from the line this season. Last year, Colorado threatened the NCAA season record for free throw percentage, finishing at 81.9 percent.
"Our free throw shooting is something we got spoiled with last year," Boyle said. "(In) shootaround today, all we did was shoot free throws. But they made free throws down the stretch, we didn't. They made 12 threes, we didn't. Those two things, you combine those in a four-point game and it's the difference between winning and losing."
HOW IT HAPPENED: After watching an early 11-point lead turn into a 27-19 deficit at the half, the Buffaloes managed to narrow SIU's lead to three midway through the second half.
Battey, who played just six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, scored seven straight for CU to help the Buffs shave a 41-32 deficit down to 43-30 with 11 minutes to play.
SIU rebuilt its cushion to eight before Colorado again pulled back to within three, 57-54, on five points from Walker and a da Silva dunk.
But the Salukis answered with their 12th 3-pointer of the game to bump their lead back to six, 60-54, with just 3:42 remaining.
CU, though, managed to cut the deficit to two, 60-58, with 1:33 on the clock. Walker cashed in a putback and da Silva hit one of two free throws to pull the Buffs within just two.
But that was as close as the Buffs could get. SIU came up with a free throw and dunk on its next two possessions, sandwiched around a CU turnover, for a 63-58 lead with 42 seconds to play. The Salukis then added four more free throws down the stretch for a 67-58 lead before da Silva scored five points in the final seconds to round out the scoring.
"We're not happy whatsoever with the way we played defensively," Boyle said. "But I am happy with our competitive grit and toughness. It was on exhibit again tonight. We just have to play smarter and we have to finish better."
Colorado started fast, jumping out to a 12-1 lead barely four minutes into the game. The Buffs hit their first five field goal attempts while collecting six straight defensive stops and they looked ready to turn the game into a rout.
Barthelemy had seven points in the run, with da Silva and Walker also scoring.
But the Salukis didn't go away. Instead, they began chipping away at CU's lead while the Buffs went ice-cold on the offensive end, enduring a four-minute scoreless stretch. SIU finally took a 15-14 lead with 7:17 left in the half.
The Buffs did momentarily regain the lead, and with 3:20 to go in the half, the score was tied at 19-19.
But the Salukis came out of a timeout to score the final eight points of the half and Colorado never came closer than two again the rest of the night.
"It's finishing plays, finishing the half, finishing free throws — we just have to do a better job of finishing," Boyle said.
Colorado finished the half shooting 8-for-25 from the field — 3-for-20 after the 5-for-5 start — and the Salukis had an 18-16 rebound edge, including five offensive boards. One of those offensive rebounds opened the door for a Verplancken 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining in the half.
The Buffs were also plagued by foul trouble in the first half, with big man Evan Battey playing just six minutes in the opening period after drawing his second foul midway through the half.
TURNING POINT: With 3:20 to play in the first half, the score was tied at 19-19. SIU outscored Colorado 8-0 down the stretch and the Salukis never gave up the lead the rest of the night.
WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs can't come home with a championship, and they got their first taste of a regular season game away from home. As Boyle said, it was a good lesson for his young team.
NEXT UP: The Buffs play Duquesne in a consolation bracket game Saturday at 3:45 p.m.