It was a moment where Tad Boyle couldn't suppress a smile.
As his Colorado Buffaloes basketball team was wrapping up a dominant game-clinching 14-3 run that polished off Texas Tuesday afternoon, Derrick White knocked down a clutch 3-pointer that pretty much ended the Longhorns' chances of a comeback in CU's finale at the Legends Classic.
After White's shot splashed through, Boyle turned to assistant coach Mike Rohn on the CU bench with a winning smirk across his face. It was the sort of late shot in a key moment often lacking for the Buffs a year ago, and one envisioned throughout last year while White practiced with CU during his transfer season.
"My quote to coach Rohn was, 'It sure is nice coaching good players.' That's just how I felt," Boyle said. "He just made a big-time shot at the end of the shot clock. He raised up and knocked it down. And the bottom line is good players have to make good plays at the end of games to win. And Derrick White, he's a good player."
If there was any question surrounding White after his transfer to CU following a three-year Division II All-American career at UCCS, it was how he might respond to the speed and pressure of the Division I game. White quickly is dispelling any doubts.
Through five games White is leading CU in scoring (14.4 points per game), field goal percentage (.565), assists (21), and blocked shots (six) while sharing the team lead with five steals. His nine assists in Monday's loss was the best total by a CU player in three seasons, and he went 7-for-10 from the field in Tuesday's win against Texas. In the past three games, White has gone 11-for-11 at the free throw line.
Perhaps more importantly, White is playing with a poise beyond his five-game experience at the Division I level. CU often crumbled late in games in which they held significant leads last year. With White running the show on Tuesday, the Buffs didn't blink when Texas whittled a 12-point second-half margin down to three with about five minutes remaining.
"You can just tell the difference," Boyle said. "That might be a game last year where we let it slip away when they shrank the lead. He's a calming influence for everybody and he's such a smart player. He had just as good a defensive performance in the tournament. He's become a really important perimeter defender for us as well."
XJ getting stronger
Senior Xavier Johnson was far more active during the two games in Brooklyn than he showed previously in CU's season-opening three-game homestand.
Playing for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 season after a torn Achilles tendon sidelined him last year, Johnson admitted the first few games offered an opportunity to shake off some rust before the Buffs' competition was ratcheted up against Notre Dame and Texas.
"The first three games, you got to see how it does. I didn't want to do too much, but I didn't want to do too less," Johnson said. "I've been trying to get back into the rhythm of what Xavier Johnson does, which is defense, rebounding, and scoring. I'm just trying to get better every day. It's a blessing to be out here and competing again."
Johnson was particularly effective in CU's loss against Notre Dame, scoring a season-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds, four of which he grabbed at the offensive end. He also had two assists without a turnover in 30 minutes.
Despite playing just eight minutes in the first half of Tuesday's win against No. 22 Texas after picking up two early fouls, Johnson finished with seen points and three rebounds and again didn't commit a turnover in 25 minutes.
The Buffs were scheduled to enjoy and off-day in New York before returning to Colorado on Wednesday night. CU will remain off on Thanksgiving before resuming practice Friday in preparation for Sunday's home date against Wofford.
"Everybody will have a place to go for a nice Thanksgiving meal," Boyle said. "The guys will be off on Thanksgiving eating turkey, and we'll get back to practice Friday to start getting ready for Wofford."