What went right: The Buffs displayed the sort of composure that has been lagging at times during the nonconference schedule, hardly flinching as Eastern Washington raced to a 19-2 lead.
What went wrong: Eastern Washington grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, leading to 10 second-chance points.
Star of the game: Derrick White. The senior guard went 8-for-10 at the free throw line and paced the Buffs with 17 points. He recorded all seven of his assists after halftime and also notched a season-best four blocked shots.
What's next: The Buffs will be idle until New Year's Day, when they open Pac-12 Conference play at Utah.
Putting together a full 40-minute performance still is proving elusive for the Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball team.
Yet despite a dismal start Thursday night against an Eastern Washington squad playing its third road game in five days, the Buffs were able to get their game together when it counted most, eventually pulling away for a 76-68 win in the team's nonconference finale at the Coors Events Center.
The Buffs spotted Eastern Washington a 19-2 lead before rallying, outscoring the visiting Eagles 74-49 the rest of the way. CU now will be idle until it begins Pac-12 Conference play on New Year's Day at Utah.
"It was a good win, especially given how we started the game," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "We beat a good Eastern Washington team, a team that's really hard to play against. I thought they were terrific."
For a team that was hoping to enter its holiday hiatus on a positive note, the Buffs endured a surprisingly miserable start.
CU missed its first eight field goal attempts, having more turnovers (one) than field goals as Eastern Washington built its 17-point lead behind 15 points from Bogdan Bliznyuk.
Though he entered the game averaging 20.6 points with a .503 shooting percentage, Bliznyuk found plenty of open space against the CU defense while going 8-for-12 overall and 3-for-4 from 3-point range during the first half. The Buffs, however, made some crucial defensive adjustments after going into halftime trailing 35-32, deploying longer-armed players like Wesley Gordon and Derrick White on Bliznyuk for much of the second half.
The tweak paid dividends. Bliznyuk scored only four points in the second half while shooting 1-for-8.
"I think we did a good job of being in gaps. We talked a lot about that at halftime, making him see a crowded floor," White said. "We just wanted to make him make tough twos and try to beat him to spots. We knew what he wanted to do, so I think we made it more difficult for him."
The Buffs closed the first half on a 15-4 run and used an 8-0 run early in the second half, featuring two 3-pointers from Josh Fortune, to take their first lead at 40-37.
The Eagles still led 55-53 with 9 minutes, 16 seconds remaining when White and Xavier Johnson powered the Buffs on a 17-3 run that gave CU a 70-58 lead with 4 minutes, 6 seconds remaining. The duo combined for 11 of those points, with White also recording assists on two easy baskets during the run by forward Tory Miller.
A CU turnover and two consecutive offensive fouls contributed to five straight Eagles points in an 8-2 run that cut CU's lead to four points with 1:17 left, but a White-to-Gordon dunk helped keep the Eagles at bay.
White recorded nine of his team-leading 17 points and all seven of his assists in the second half, while Johnson overcame first-half foul trouble to score all 10 of his points after halftime. Gordon posted his second double-double of the season and 12th of his career with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"One of the reasons we fell down 19-2 is we settled for jump shots, and the jump shots weren't going in," Boyle said. "We weren't getting offensive rebounds. We were on our heels. Then, boom, Bliznyuk got going and our players got schooled a little bit. But our players rose to that challenge in the second half."
COLORADO 76, E. WASHINGTON 68
E. WASHINGTON (8-5)
Wiley 4-6 2-2 10, Peatling 1-1 0-0 2, Von Hofe 3-14 1-2 9, Vulikic 3-9 5-8 12, Bliznyuk 9-20 4-5 25, Hunt 1-3 2-3 4, McKay 0-0 1-4 1, Benzel 0-2 0-0 0, Washington 1-4 0-0 2, Gibson 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 23-60 15-24 68.
Gordon 3-5 5-7 11, King 2-9 0-2 5, Fortune 4-10 2-2 13, White 4-8 8-10 17, Johnson 3-5 4-5 10, Siewert 0-1 0-0 0, Miller 3-3 0-0 6, Brown 1-4 2-2 5, Akyazili 1-1 1-2 3, Peters 1-2 1-1 3, Collier 1-3 1-2 3. Totals 23-51 24-33 76.
Halftime — E. Washington 35-32. 3-point goals — E. Washington 7-23 (Bliznyuk 3-5, Von Hofe 2-10, Gibson 1-1, Vulikic 1-2, Washington 0-1, Benzel 0-2, Hunt 0-2), Colorado 6-19 (Fortune 3-7, White 1-2, Brown 1-3, King 1-5, Siewert 0-1, Johnson 0-1). Fouled out — Wiley, Peatling. Rebounds — E. Washington 31 (Wiley 8), Colorado 35 (Gordon 10). Assists — E. Washington 10 (Bliznyuk 5), Colorado 15 (White 7). Total fouls — E. Washington 27, Colorado 19. A — 6,958 (11,064).