Throughout the nonconference schedule, Colorado Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle has reiterated that while the Buffs will boast a deep rotation, the team will go only as far as the seniors take them.
On Thursday, it was seniors Derrick White and Xavier Johnson's turn to guide CU toward victory.
The duo combined for 11 points during a decisive 17-3 CU run in the second half, paving the way for a 76-68 win against Eastern Washington at the Coors Events Center.
White tallied three of his seven assists during the run, including a pair that led to easy baskets by reserve forward Tory Miller. White also played critical second-half defense on Eagles leading scorer Bogdan Bliznyuk, who managed just four points in the second half after scoring 21 in the first.
"Derrick was terrific in the second half," Boyle said. "Decision-making, running the break, pitching it ahead. He got Josh Fortune a couple threes. He got XJ a bucket pitching it ahead, and he got himself some buckets by driving, not settling for jump shots.
"Derrick is really, really important for us. We need him on the floor. He's probably our best perimeter defender and he's certainly our best play-maker."
Johnson basically was a non-factor in the first half after picking up two fouls within the first 4 minutes, 32 seconds of the game. Getting back in the mix after halftime, he went 3-for-5 from the field and 4-for-5 at the free throw line to help spark the Buffs' rally.
His signature 3-point shot has been awry for much of the season, but senior Josh Fortune knocked down a couple of his bigger long-range attempts of the nonconference season early in the second half against Eastern Washington.
Consecutive threes from Fortune from a near-identical spot in the corner keyed an 8-0 CU run early in the second half that finally gave the hosts their first lead of the game. By going 3-for-7, Fortune improved his season 3-point percentage to .327, which remains behind the .385 pace he produced last season. Yet after going 7-for-15 on 3-pointers in the past three games, Fortune hopes his shot remains back on track when the Buffs reconvene next week to begin preparations for the Pac-12 Conference opener at Utah on New Year's Day.
"We just stuck to our principles," Fortune said. "On offense we like to run the floor and get the ball moving to the open man. If he's open, shoot it. Which is what I did. We got the ball moving on offense a lot and it worked out for us."
Fortune also recorded a season-high four assists and has seven assists in the past two games. He posted only five assists in the previous five games.
In his second game back from a stress fracture in his foot, junior guard Dominique Collier played just six minutes in the first half before remaining on the bench the entire second half.
Boyle said the fact that White, Fortune, and reserve guard Deleon Brown were playing well gave him the freedom to rest Collier, who he said did not suffer an injury setback. Collier played 19 minutes in his return Monday at Air Force after a nine-game layoff but should get stronger during the Buffs' nine-day break between games.
"I played him more minutes than I wanted to against Air Force," Boyle said. "We had it kind of rolling and we kind of had the game under control. If (Eastern Washington) had gone to that zone a little earlier I probably would've put him in. Just didn't want to push him tonight.
"He's going to have a different Christmas break than the rest of these guys. His Christmas break is going to be kind of ramping up for January 1. The other guys, some of them need to relax, rest, get off their feet. We'll come back on the 27th and run the food out of them."
CU committed a season-low nine turnovers...The Buffs posted 15 assists and have recorded at least 14 assists in each of the past five games...After struggling from the floor for much of the season, CU senior forward Wesley Gordon has shot 9-for-13 in the past three games.