What went right: The Buffaloes displayed commendable grit, rallying from an 18-point deficit late in the first half to get within four late. CU went 18-for-19 at the free throw line.
What went wrong: CU struggled defensively, particularly early as Notre Dame hit 12 of its first 18 shots and went 18-for-33 in the first half. For the first time this season the Buffs were outrebounded (41-38).
Star of the game: Xavier Johnson. In his finest performance in four games since his return from a torn Achilles, the senior scored a game-high 23 points with seven rebounds, two assists, and no turnovers in 30 minutes.
What's next: The Buffs will take on No. 22 Texas in their final game of the Legends Classic on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. MST. The game will air on ESPNU.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — If this was the first measuring stick for the Colorado men's basketball team against top-tier national competition, the Buffaloes still have work to do.
Despite an impressive late rally, CU was never able to fully overcome a torrid shooting performance early by Notre Dame, as the Buffs fell 89-83 Monday in the Legends Classic in the first matchup between the two programs.
The Buffs trailed by 18 points late in the first half but twice rallied to within four in the final minute before suffering their first loss of the season. CU (3-1) will complete the Legends Classic at the Barclay's Center Tuesday afternoon against No. 22 Texas (1:30 p.m. MST, ESPNU).
"I like our guys' fight to come back, but you dig yourself a hole like that in the first half, it's tough," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I liked our fight, but we have to have it for 40 minutes, not 20."
Notre Dame knocked down 12 of its first 18 shots while building a 50-35 lead at halftime. The Irish, who have reached the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons, finished the first 20 minutes with a .545 mark (18-for-33) from the floor.
For the first 30 minutes every time the Buffs attempted to make a move, the Irish answered with a mini-run that kept CU's deficit in double-digits. That finally changed over the final eight minutes.
Notre Dame led 71-57 after a 3-point play by VJ Beachem with 8 minutes, 16 seconds remaining when the Buffs went to work. Eight consecutive points by CU, all by senior Xavier Johnson and freshman Bryce Peters, pulled the Buffs within six points with 4:19 to go.
CU battled to within five on an inside basket by Johnson with just under two minutes left, but Notre Dame went 12-for-12 at the free throw line over the final two minutes to hold off the Buffs.
While the Buffs' defense improved in the second half, they were exposed in different ways throughout the game. CU senior forward Wesley Gordon picked up his second foul just three and a half minutes into the game and sat on the bench until the second half. With their best interior defender sidelined, Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson took advantage to score 12 first-half points while shooting 4-for-5.
Later it was Fighting Irish guard Matt Farrell who exposed CU's shaky perimeter defense, often driving to the glass for easy buckets en route to a 20-point, six-assist performance. CU was outrebounded for the first time this season, with Notre Dame posting a 41-38 advantage.
"We've got to play better defensively," CU junior George King said. "I think they were better than us a little bit on the boards. They were more aggressive, I should say. When you play good teams you can't allow them to outrebound you and get all the way to the rim."
In his best showing in four games since his return from a torn Achilles tendon, Johnson finished with a game-high 23 points for the Buffs to go with seven rebounds. King posted the second double-double of his career 17 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, while Derrick White turned in another strong all-around game for CU with 20 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.
White went 7-for-7 on free throws to pace CU's 18-for-19 performance at the line. Yet after averaging about 31 free throw attempts through the first three games Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey was pleased with how his club kept the Buffs off the glass and away from the free throw line.
"I compared (CU) to some of the old Pitt teams we used to have to deal with in the Big East that just pounded you on the boards," Brey said. "They only get 13 offensive rebounds and we outrebounded them. And keeping them off the foul line as best we can. They're scoring 22 points from the free throw line. We did an OK job there. But the rebounding we did a very good job. And we had to, or we wouldn't have won."