Evan Battey emerged from the locker room gasping and breathless, yet nonetheless grinning that ear-to-ear Battey grin than can light up an entire gym.
The reason for that smile was obvious. The Colorado men's basketball team had just completed a 17-point comeback at New Mexico, the third-largest rally in a true road game in program history. Yet given the Buffaloes are one of the few teams to visit The Pit in Albuquerque that doesn't count the altitude as a potential hurdle, the reason for Battey's breathlessness wasn't quite as clear.
It turned out Battey has been battling a cold, which coach Tad Boyle cited as the reason Alex Strating was the first forward off the bench Tuesday night. But Battey certainly made his mark, turning in his strongest rebounding effort of the young season while playing a key role in a couple of the Buffs' game-changing runs in what eventually became a 78-75 victory.
"I'm getting more comfortable," Battey said. "I feel like I'm easing into it out there."
Battey, a redshirt freshman, grabbed a season-best nine rebounds at New Mexico, including three boards on the offensive end. That gave Battey multiple offensive rebounds in six consecutive games.
The 6-foot-8 forward also came off the bench to score 10 points, combining with guards Namon Wright and Deleon Brown (eight points apiece) to lead a 30-25 scoring advantage for the CU reserves against New Mexico's bench.
Moreover, Battey collected those points at critical junctures. With the Buffs trailing by 17 late in the first half, a Battey basket started CU on a 14-0 run that got the Buffs back in the game after a terrible start. He did it again early in the second half with CU still trailing by 14, connecting in the post to start a 10-0 run that got the Buffs within four and clearly made the Lobos nervous after their dominant start.
Later in the second half, Battey followed a free throw with a 3-pointer on a wide-open look at the top of the key, getting the Buffs within a point for the first time. Soon thereafter, a free throw from Wright followed by a layup from McKinley Wright finally gave the Buffs their first lead with 4 minutes, 33 seconds to play.
A few minutes later, the breathless Battey and his teammates were celebrating.
"He had some big points for us in the first half that kind of kept us around," Boyle said. "He hit a big three there. His three and (Tyler Bey's) three, I thought that was big. They didn't hesitate and they knocked them down and got us back in it."
After a somewhat slow start to his first active collegiate season, Battey continues to show improvement nine games into his collegiate career. Two games after posting a season-most four assists, Battey turned around and recorded a season-best rebounding total at New Mexico. Tuesday's effort improved Battey's field goal percentage to an even 50 percent (30-for-60), and like the rest of the Buffs it is an encouraging sign there clearly is room for improvement with the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii and the start of Pac-12 Conference play looming.
"The thing that makes me excited about this team is we did not play our best (Tuesday)," Boyle said. "We did not play our best by any stretch of the imagination, and we found a way to win. When you can do that, you know you've got a pretty special group."