What went right: The Buffs outrebounded Mercer 32-29 and shot a solid 48 percent from the floor.
What went wrong: Not much, though Mercer did post a 38-22 advantage in points from the paint.
Star of the game: George King. The senior guard went 9-for-13 from the field and posted team-leading totals of 25 points and eight rebounds.
What's next: After three games in three days the Buffs will have a week off before hosting Air Force on Nov. 26.
LYNCHBURG, Va. — A few weeks ago, after the Colorado Buffaloes began the season with a somewhat lethargic performance in an exhibition game against Colorado Mines, head coach Tad Boyle stopped a film session to ask his players what characteristics the team owned that could be considered elite.
When no one provided a reasonable answer, it was senior walk-on Josh Repine who spoke up.
With his shrewd coach's view from the sideline, Repine exhorted his teammates to play with elite-level effort and elite-level concentration, traits that should not be impacted whatsoever by the team's youth.
That focus and concentration has been on display throughout CU's unexpectedly solid start, particularly on Sunday night, when the Buffs capped a run of three games in three days by defeating Mercer 79-70 in the championship game of the Paradise Jam.
The victory improved CU to 5-0 for the first time since the beginning of the 2012-13 season when the Buffs also claimed their previous tournament championship at the Charleston Classic.
"Coach Boyle asked the team, 'What are we elite in?' And we couldn't answer him. We weren't elite in anything," CU senior George King said. "Josh Repine was like, 'That's bull.' It takes no talent to be elite in our concentration and our effort. That really hit hard. Be elite in our effort and concentration, and we can give ourselves a chance to win games. Because of that we were able to instill that and take it into our games here."
Playing in front of many extended family members who watched him play for the first time at the Paradise Jam, King capped the tournament with a memorable performance, finishing with team-leading totals of 25 points and eight rebounds. King shook off a 2-for-10 start to the season from 3-point range by knocking down 3 of 6 from long range while finishing 9-for-13 overall.
King earned all-tournament honors and was joined on the all-tournament team by freshman point guard McKinley Wright, who won the Paradise Jam MVP award. Wright cooled down from the field after his big first two nights at Liberty University, going 3-for-9 with 11 points, but he still finished with seven assists, four rebounds, and just one turnover in 34 minutes.
Wright recorded just seven assists with 10 turnovers through the season's first three games. In the final two contests at the Paradise Jam, he posted 16 assists with only two turnovers.
"For a bunch of freshmen melding with four seniors, a junior, and two sophomores, they're a together group right now," Boyle said. "These guys took the opportunities that were presented to them and made the most of them."
Despite playing their third game in three days, the Buffs put together their most complete effort of the tournament against Mercer. Both teams enjoyed hot starts from the floor, with Mercer leading by seven points in the early stages.
It was a 3-pointer from Wright with a little more than seven minutes remaining in the first half that gave the Buffs the lead for good. CU led 39-37 at halftime before opening the second half with a 10-4 run and managed to keep the Bears at bay the rest of the way.
Namon Wright went 6-for-6 at the free throw line and finished with 13 points, while Deleon Brown added 13 points off the bench.
"I thought our concentration, I thought our focus, I thought our effort was really good tonight from start to finish," Boyle said. "We will hit adversity at some point this year. We don't know when it's coming, but it's going to hit us. I'm cautiously optimistic this group is going to be able to handle that adversity and fight through it. But we can't get ahead of ourselves. It's very early in the season."
Colorado 79, Mercer 70
At Paradise Jam, Liberty University
N. Wright 3-10 6-6 13, Collier 1-2 0-0 3, Miller-Stewart 1-1 3-7 5, King 9-13 4-5 25, M. Wright 3-9 4-4 11, Bey 0-2 2-2 2, Brown 4-7 4-4 13, Schwartz 1-2 0-1 3, Walton 2-3 0-0 4, Nikolic 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 24-50 23-30 79.
Ringer 2-4 3-4 7, Jelks 4-8 0-0 9, Strawberry 2-9 0-0 5, Holland 3-7 5-5 13, Rivers 6-11 0-0 14, Kilby 2-4 1-1 5, Stowe 1-2 2-2 4, Cohen 3-6 1-3 7, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Stair 1-2 0-0 2, Green 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 26-56 12-15 70.Colorado 39 40 — 79
3-point field goals — Colorado 8-21 (N. Wright 1-3, Collier 1-2, King 3-6, M. Wright 1-4, Schwartz 1-2, Brown 1-3, Nikolic 0-1); Mercer 6-15 (Jelks 1-3, Strawberry 1-3, Holland 2-3, Rivers 2-6). Rebounds — Colorado 32 (King 8); Mercer 29 (Jelks 12). Assists — Colorado 15 (M. Wright 7); Mercer 8 (Strawberry, Cohen 3). Total fouls — Colorado 20, Mercer 22. Fouled out — Miller-Stewart. Technical fouls — Mercer bench.