Before facing last year's The Basketball Tournament champion Overseas Elite in the 2016 TBT final game on Tuesday night, Team Colorado knew it had an uphill battle ahead of them. And after blowing a mid-first half 20-point lead, Overseas Elite took Team Colorado down to the wire and won its second consecutive title and the prize of $2 million, 77-72.
And to think this is the same Team Colorado that lost in the first round of the TBT last year. Talk about a Cinderella story. But this time, the glass slipper didn't quite fit right.
"I'm extremely proud," head coach Dwight Thorne II said. "When we set out to play this game, you always want to win. You want to win at the highest level. It's unfortunate that we lost and we're disappointed, don't get me wrong. We're all disappointed because we thought we could win."
No matter the outcome, however, Team Colorado's unprecedented run has made Buff nation extremely proud.
"From the first game to the last game, the support from every single person at Buff nation has been tremendous," Thorne said.
Overseas Elite never led by more than five points.
Guard Marcus Hall, who's carried Team Colorado on his back throughout the duration of the tournament, led his team once more with 25 points. Austin Dufault was right behind him with 16 points.
"He's a true warrior as I've said time and time before with everyone I've talked to about Marcus Hall, and he's a great leader. Today he did the same thing he's been doing the whole tournament," Thorne said.
But perhaps the clutch performance of the night belonged to Levi Knutson, who came off the bench when Hall picked up his third foul in the first half and scored 10 points in lieu of his absence.
Team Colorado got off to an excellent start after going up 7-0, and continued to bury Overseas Elite as the half wore on. With eight minutes remaining in the first, the ex-Buffs extended their lead to an impressive 20 points, 33-13.
But when leading scorer Hall and key teammate Dominique Coleman both got into serious foul trouble and had to leave the game, Overseas Elite made its comeback. Although last year's TBT champions couldn't snap the double-digit lead going into the break, they got pretty close.
"It played out the way that it has the whole tournament," Thorne said of the team's defensive breakdown after Hall's exit. "He's been our main ball-handler. He's been our playmaker for us. When he had the three fouls, we cut the lead down from 15 to 10, which is still a significant lead, but it messed up our rhythm and it messed up our momentum that we had."
That momentum shift came back to bite Team Colorado in the long run.
At the half, Team Colorado led by only 10 points, 46-36.
From the second the clock started back up for the second half, Overseas Elite stepped up its game exponentially. While keeping Team Colorado from scoring a single point in the first five minutes, OE mounted its comeback.
With just 12 minutes left in the game, Overseas Elite tied the ballgame up at 49. Thirty seconds later, it took the lead for the first time. Over the next five minutes, both teams exchanged blows and switched up the lead five times with an additional tie score.
That was when Colorado's offense woke up and scored seven unanswered points. Just minutes later, Overseas Elite responded in kind and tied the game back up at 63 with just under five minutes remaining.
For a championship game, this matchup could not have gone more down to the wire. With 1:53 remaining, Overseas Elite gained the lead for the fourth and final time.
After a Hall bucket with 12 seconds left on the clock, the man who carried the team on his back all tournament got the OE turnover and gave Team Colorado two shots to tie the game up at 75, but the team missed both three point attempts and fouled their opponent in the process.
Overseas Elite sunk both final free throws, taking home the title for a second straight year.
"When we set out for the game we were trying to represent the school, represent the state and represent ourselves, and in a great manner we did that," Thorne said. "So the fact that we did come out and make it this far and lose to a high-caliber team, it's disappointing but we did accomplish our original goals."