What went right: The Buffs made 5-of-7 3-pointers after halftime while playing sound defense throughout the contest, holding Xavier to a .377 mark from the field.
What went wrong: CU was outrebounded for just the second time this season, with Xavier posting a 41-36 advantage.
Star of the game: Derrick White. The senior point guard scored nine of his 23 points in the final five minutes. He went 3-for-6 on 3-pointers and also recorded six rebounds and four assists.
What's next: The Buffs travel to Brigham Young this weekend to face the Cougars at 8 p.m. MST Saturday.
Nights like this are why Derrick White opted to roll the dice and transfer to Colorado.
The former Division II All-American at UCCS had his fair share of moments, both good and ill, through the Buffaloes' first eight games. However against the 13th-ranked Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday night, White proved his worth as the sort of floor general that can put the Buffs on his shoulders late in pivotal games.
White knocked down an array of big shots down the stretch at the Coors Events Center, leading the way to a critical 68-66 victory for the Buffs. After defeating then-No. 22 Texas on Nov. 22, CU has posted consecutive victories over ranked opponents for the first time since late in the 2012-13 season.
"Last year we lost a lot of close ones, so I just wanted to focus on finishing down the stretch," White said. "We were able to finish here even though we didn't get as many stops as we needed. We were still able to pull off the win."
The Musketeers put together a 16-2 run on either side of halftime to build a nine-point lead early in the second half. Xavier still led by eight points when the Buffs ripped off 15 points in a row, a burst highlighted by two 3-pointers by Xavier Johnson as well as 3-pointers from George King and White.
White scored nine of his team-leading 23 points in the final five minutes, with most of them allowing CU to answer comeback attempts from Xavier. After Xavier battled to within three points, a driving layup from White pushed CU's lead back to five with about four minutes left. Moments later a pull-up 3-pointer from White gave the Buffs a seven-point edge with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining.
Xavier again pulled to within three points when a long jumper by White at the shot clock buzzer gave CU breathing room. The Musketeers had a final chance after a 3-point play from Trevon Bluiett cut CU's lead to 65-63 with 56.6 seconds left, but White converted another driving shot to make it a two-possession game.
White did have one glaring mistake down the stretch, committing a bad turnover that led to an easy Xavier basket, but he made up for it in the waning seconds with CU protecting a three-point lead. A Josh Fortune turnover near the Xavier basket gave the Musketeers a chance, but a blocked shot from White ended the threat. A free throw from King with 7.1 seconds left all but sealed the win.
"At the highest level of college basketball you can have all the plays in the world, you can have all the defensive concepts in the world, but if you don't have players who can't make plays down the stretch, you're not going to win games like this," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "Tonight we did and we made the plays. As frustrated as I've been maybe in the past about that not happening, I'm as proud tonight for them doing it."
While White played the role of closer, the Buffs used a true team effort to overcome foul trouble for Johnson and Wesley Gordon. George King shook off an 0-for-6 mark on 3-pointers in the previous two games to go 3-for-4 from long range, ultimately posting his third double-double of the season and the fourth of his career with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Johnson had a strong game as well, going 7-for-11 from the field before finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds.
"Obviously it was a great win for our program and certainly for our league," Boyle said. "I don't think either team was maybe their sharpest tonight or their best tonight. Especially early in that first half. We both missed a lot of wide-open shots I think that they normally make and that we I think should normally make."
COLORADO 68, No. 13 XAVIER 66
Gaston 7-8 0-3 14, Macura 3-9 2-2 8, Bernard 1-4 1-2 3, Sumner 3-11 3-4 10, Bluiett 7-17 5-6 25, Gates 0-5 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-2 0, O'Mara 2-4 2-2 6, Goodin 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 23-61 13-21 66.
Gordon 2-5 1-2 5, White 9-16 2-3 23, Fortune 0-5 2-2 2, King 5-9 3-4 16, Johnson 7-11 1-2 18, Siewert 0-3 0-0 0, Akyazili 0-3 0-0 0, Peters 2-3 0-1 4, Brown 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 9-14 68.
Halftime — Xavier 31-28. 3-Point Goals — Xavier 7-27 (Bluiett 6-13, Sumner 1-4, Bernard 0-1, Gates 0-4, Macura 0-5), Colorado 9-20 (Johnson 3-4, White 3-5, King 3-5, Fortune 0-1, Akyazili 0-1, Peters 0-1, Brown 0-1, Siewert 0-2). Fouled Out — Gordon. Rebounds — Xavier 36 (Gaston 11), Colorado 32 (King 10). Assists — Xavier 13 (Sumner 5), Colorado 15 (Gordon 5). Total Fouls — Xavier 18, Colorado 17.