What went right: The Buffs didn't shoot well and surrendered too many good looks, but they still outrebounded SMU 38-34.
What went wrong: For the first time this season CU struggled at the free throw line, finishing just 8-for-17.
Star of the game: Josh Fortune. The junior went 4-for-7 from 3-point range and paced the Buffs with 15 points.
What's next?: The Buffs are idle until opening Pac-12 Conference play at Cal at 9 p.m. MST on New Year's Day.
LAS VEGAS — Close, but not quite.
The Colorado Buffaloes had been looking forward to making a statement against a nationally-ranked opponent but couldn't close the deal down the stretch, dropping a 70-66 decision against No. 18-ranked SMU Wednesday night in the final of the Las Vegas Classic.
The loss snapped CU's 11-game winning streak and left them 0-2 against ranked opponents, which includes a season-opening loss against Iowa State.
CU head coach Tad Boyle lamented his team's execution down the stretch, as a late 14-1 run by the Mustangs proved to be the difference.
“Extremely disappointed. Extremely frustrated. They out-executed us down the stretch,” Boyle said. “The last three and a half, four minutes of the game, they were better than us. Offensively and defensively.
“We did not play like we're capable of playing. We got ourselves back in the game. We got control of the game. But we let it slip away.”
CU's personnel will disperse from Las Vegas to celebrate Christmas at home before reconvening in Boulder to prepare for Pac-12 Conference play. The Buffs begin league play at Cal on New Year's Day.
SMU led 35-30 at halftime but CU put together the sort of second-half burst that is becoming a trademark of the club, reeling off 14 consecutive points to turn a 46-40 deficit into a 54-46 lead. CU still led by seven points when freshman Thomas Akyazili knocked down a 3-pointer, but unlike the closing prowess that powered much of CU's now-expired winning streak, the Buffs couldn't hold on down the stretch.
SMU answered the Buffs' second-half salvo with a 14-1 run, taking a 64-58 lead with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining.
“We didn't execute down the stretch,” senior forward Josh Scott said. “I feel like a lot of it is my fault because I didn't hit free throws that I need to hit. We lost to a good team.
“We're close. It just goes to show that every possession matters.”
A 3-pointer from Dom Collier kept the Buffs within three points with 1:25 left and an off-balance three from Josh Fortune got CU within two points with 18.4 seconds remaining, but the Mustangs made all six of their free throw attempts over the final 71 seconds to keep CU at bay.
The Buffs were hot early from long range, knocking down their first five 3-pointers before the SMU defense adjusted, muddling CU's open looks. CU made only 7-of-22 3-pointers the rest of the way, finishing 12-for-27 overall.
CU had been excellent at the free throw line for much of the season, entering the game connecting at a .741 clip, but the Buffs struggled to a 8-for-17 mark against the Mustangs.
Josh Scott struggled at times from the floor but still produced a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Fortune led the Buffs with 15 points, making 4-of-7 3-pointers, and Collier also finished with 12 points.
SMU finished 12-for-14 at the free throw line and had four players score in double figures, led by Nic Moore with 16 points.
“We didn't get it done. We just did not get it done,” Boyle said. “And it's not one guy. As a team, we didn't get it done. I don't put this loss on the players. I put it on myself. We've got to spend a little more time in late-game situations in terms of understanding the urgency.
“When there's three and a half minutes to go, or four minutes or whatever it was and you've got a lead, you've got to understand how you keep it. The way you keep it is you don't turn it over, you get great shots or you get to the foul line, and you continue to defend and rebound. And we didn't do any of that stuff. We got to the foul line a little bit, but we didn't make foul shots.”