SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Coach wants to see you.

Those were the dreaded words that followed a knock on the hotel room door for Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson on Saturday morning.

Colorado had just dropped its first two games at the Puerto Rico Tip-off and appeared to be a team without much leadership in November.

After the three senior starters met with Tad Boyle they responded to the head coach's challenge by guiding the Buffs to a gritty 81-76 victory over Western Michigan on Sunday in the seventh-place game at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico.

"I said, 'I'm going to have confidence in you guys, but you guys have to deliver,' " Boyle said of the potentially season-altering pep talk. "Otherwise I might as well play (younger players), give them more minutes. ... The seniors produced. They did what they had to do to win this game."

Brown scored a game-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting, Dufault had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Tomlinson hit a couple of clutch 3-pointers and made a key steal late in the game to make sure the Buffs salvaged a win before the long trip back to Boulder.

"We had to get this win," said Tomlinson, who finished with 12 points, four assists and no turnovers in 32 minutes. "We had two tough losses and we felt like we could have won both of them. The seniors had to step it up."

Brown set Dufault up with a shot clock-beating basket that gave CU a 77-73 lead with 58.4 seconds remaining after the teams had traded baskets for seven minutes.

The Buffs (2-2) - who had been out-rebounded 74-58 and missed 19 free throws in losses to Wichita State and Maryland - beat the Broncos (0-4) 39-30 on the glass and went 22-for-27 (81.5 percent) at the foul line.

"We went out and had fun snorkeling," Brown said of CU's pre-scheduled day trip on Saturday, which took place after the team endured two and a half hours of unflattering game film. "But we really wanted to get into the gym and knock these free throws down and go over free-throw box out. We did a better job.

"I think everybody was better locked in on, hey, we better grab these rebounds and sink these free throws no matter what."

Andre Roberson, who was averaging 12.7 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, picked up two quick fouls to start each half. The 6-foot-7 sophomore fouled out with three points and six rebounds in only 11 minutes of court time.

Shane Harris-Tunks and Sabatino Chen helped pick up the slack off the bench. And freshman Askia Booker continued to spark the team with 11 points and four assists.

"The one thing I told our team in the locker room is we've got a bunch of fighters and we've got a bunch of battlers," Boyle said. "Even though we lost our first two games down here, I like the way our team competed."

Tomlinson hit a 3-pointer and Dufault threw down a dunk in transition to give the Buffs - who trailed 21-9 after Western Michigan's Hayden Hoerdemann banked in a 3-pointer in the first half - a 36-35 lead early in the second half. Brown scored seven straight points to give CU a 48-46 lead with 13:07 left.

The Broncos surged back in front with back-to-back 3-pointers by Matt Stainbrook and Austin Richie to make the score 57-52.

A three-point play by Booker tied the score 60-60. The game also was even at 62-62, 64-64, 67-67, 69-69 and 71-71 before the senior-led Buffs seized control.

"You can talk about the last four minutes of the game, but the first 36 were also important," Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins said after CU held his team without a field goal over the final 3:47.

A steal by Tomlinson led to a transition layup for Harris-Tunks to give CU a 75-71 lead with 2:05 to go. CU went 5-for-6 at the line down the stretch to ice the game.

"There's no cupcakes down here, and I think we saw that," said Boyle, who warned his team before the tournament that they could exit 0-3 if they didn't play with great effort for 120 minutes. "That's a really good team we beat. I'm really proud of the strides we made."

CU will fly home Monday, practice on Tuesday and then play a road game at Air Force on Wednesday at Clune Arena (7 p.m., The Mtn.).