What went right: CU shot 50 percent from the floor (27-for-54) and outrebounded Norfolk State 42-37.
What went wrong: CU committed eight of its 13 turnovers after halftime, opening the door for a Spartans comeback, and Norfolk State went 7-for-16 on 3-pointers in the second half.
Star of the game: Tyler Bey. The sophomore forward set the tone at both ends of the floor, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds.
What's next: The Buffs visit former Big 12 Conference rival Texas Wednesday night in the NIT quarterfinals. The winner will advance to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York.
For Colorado basketball fans, the state of the Buffaloes' evolution from a down-and-out squad in early January to one still playing in late March was perhaps best summarized by head coach Tad Boyle shortly after his team managed to keep its season alive a little longer.
In short, CU's leader was dismayed his club was at less than its best in a critical matchup. A few months ago a CU team turning in an underwhelming performance almost certainly would have meant a loss. Instead, these Buffs are moving on to the NIT quarterfinals.
Using a dominant first-half run to take control before holding off a second-half comeback attempt by Norfolk State, the Buffs earned a 76-60 victory Monday night against the Spartans in an NIT second round showdown.
The fourth-seeded Buffs (23-12) won for the 12th time in the past 15 games and will visit former Big 12 Conference rival Texas in the NIT quarterfinals Wednesday night.
"I think it's a good sign for our program when you win a game by 16 at home, and you feel a little sense of disappointment. I felt like we weren't at our best tonight," Boyle said. "More so from an emotional standpoint than a physical standpoint or even an execution standpoint. We just weren't sharp offensively. We turned it over a little. That was a game we should have had 20-something assists."
CU's lead was at just three points with 11 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the first half when the Buffs reeled off a 19-3 run, eventually outscoring eighth-seeded Norfolk State 25-8 the rest of the half to take a 43-23 lead at the break.
Norfolk State kept things interesting by opening the second half on an 11-2 run, eventually cutting CU's lead to 48-39. But the Buffs finally put away the Spartans by answering with a 14-3 run, getting a pair of 3-pointers from freshman Daylen Kountz during the burst.
Four players finished in double-figure points for CU, with redshirt freshman Evan Battey posting his first career double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Tyler Bey just missed another double-double, finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Kountz added 10 points off the bench.
CU never trailed, but Boyle warned it will take a much better all-around effort to top Texas and move on to the NIT Final Four at Madison Square Garden in New York. CU shot 50 percent (27-for-54) for the eighth time this season but the first time since posting a .558 mark at home against Arizona Feb. 17.
"We talked at halftime about coming out and winning the second half. We came out and got beat by four in the second half," Boyle said. "Those things can't happen. Especially at home. We got the win and we live to see another day. It's about surviving and advancing this time of year, and thank goodness we are."
The Buffs will have a quick turnaround before taking on second-seeded Texas, which outlasted third-seeded Xavier in overtime in a second-round game Sunday.
"Play with emotion. It starts with me, and I wasn't fully there tonight," CU point guard McKinley Wright said. "I think these guys, their actions follow a lot of what I do. So when I'm not there emotionally, a lot of them will follow me. So I've got to start off better Wednesday night in Austin with more emotion."
Colorado 76, Norfolk State 60
At CU Events Center
NORFOLK ST. (22-14)
Butler 1-2 2-4 4, Long 5-10 1-3 11, Whitley 3-10 1-1 7, Thomas 3-15 1-2 10, Pitt 4-11 3-3 14, Ford 0-0 0-2 0, Branch 2-5 0-2 5, Fitzgerald 1-2 0-0 2, Chavis 0-0 0-0 0, Jamerson 1-8 0-0 2, Bryant 1-1 2-4 5. Totals 21-64 10-21 60.
Battey 3-8 6-7 12, M.Wright 2-4 0-0 6, Gatling 1-6 1-2 4, Schwartz 4-10 3-4 11, Bey 7-8 3-4 17, Strating 3-4 0-0 6, Siewert 2-4 2-2 7, Martinka 0-0 0-0 0, Kountz 4-9 0-0 10, Ersek 0-0 0-0 0, Parquet 1-1 1-2 3, McQuade 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 16-21 76.
Halftime — Colorado 43, Norfolk St. 23. 3-point field goals — Norfolk St. 8-28 (Thomas 3-7, Pitt 3-8, Bryant 1-1, Branch 1-2, Fitzgerald 0-1, Whitley 0-3, Jamerson 0-6), Colorado 6-19 (M.Wright 2-3, Kountz 2-4, Siewert 1-3, Gatling 1-6, Schwartz 0-3). Rebounds — Norfolk St. 34 (Thomas 9), Colorado 42 (Battey 10). Assists — Norfolk St. 9 (Whitley 3), Colorado 18 (M.Wright 6). Total fouls — Norfolk St. 22, Colorado 12. A — 5,891.