The numbers suggest that Xavier Talton has been the same, steady player for the last three years for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
Numbers don’t always tell the story, though, and Talton is a classic example of that.
“He’ll be the first to tell you, his junior year was a little bit of a struggle and he didn’t play up to his capabilities,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “But, he certainly is this year.”
While not the dominating force that Josh Scott has become, or the big-time scoring threat that George King has developed into, Talton’s play has been invaluable to the Buffaloes (19-7, 8-5 Pac-12), who are eyeing a return to the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing season last year.
“XT is playing like a senior, he’s thinking like a senior, he’s acting like a senior,” Boyle said. “I’m really proud of him.”
A 6-foot-2 guard from Sterling, Talton is playing fewer minutes than he did as a sophomore or junior, but he’s getting much more out of his minutes than at any point in his career.
His scoring average (4.2 points per game) is actually down a bit from last year (4.3) and the year before (4.9), but he’s making winning plays for a team that has sorely needed them.
“You don’t just have to score the ball to be able to help your team win a game,” Talton said. “It’s just doing the little things, like setting a screen for somebody or hitting the open man.”
Talton found the open man in a critical spot on Jan. 23 in Pullman, Wash.
Washington State had just taken a 54-53 lead midway through the second half when Talton collected a loose ball under the CU hoop. When he corralled it, he was sitting on the floor, with his legs on top of a Washington State player. He looked up, and spotted King wide open behind the 3-point arc. From his backside, Talton whipped the ball to King, who drilled a 3-pointer to spark a 12-2 CU run.
In the closing seconds of that game, Talton drilled two free throws that proved vital in a 75-70 road win.
While he hasn’t been perfect this year, those are the types of plays Talton is making for the Buffs.
A year ago, he didn’t make those plays.
Like many of his teammates, Talton struggled throughout the 2014-15 season. CU desperately needed Talton — or anyone — to step up and lead, and it never really happened, as CU finished 16-18.
Over the past year, Talton’s purpose has been to avoid the same disappointment.
“We really talked about leadership and how we didn’t really have that last year, so coming in this year that was one of the things we really focused on,” Talton said.
He said that he and fellow seniors Eli Stalzer and Scott talked quite a bit about the need for them to demand more of the team.
“We need to be on the guys, we need to play better, especially better than last year,” Talton said of the message they delivered. “I think we’ve done that so far.”
Talton has certainly taken his own advice. He wasn’t overly thrilled with how he started the year, but he’s picked up his game in Pac-12 play. He’s been nearly perfect at the free throw line this year (29 of 32), has contributed several big buckets, has the best assist-to-turnover ratio of his career (1.65 to 1), and has a career-high 23 steals.
Boyle said he’s also been able to count on Talton as a defender, as a “calming influence” on the court, and as a leader for young point guards Dominique Collier and Thomas Akyazili.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s approaching his senior year,” Boyle said. “We didn’t recruit him to be our best player; we recruited him here to be a solid contributor for us as his career developed, and that’s really what he’s done. He’s met my expectations.
“I love it, because he’s such a good kid. You want to see guys like Xavier Talton succeed.”
Nobody is more pleased that Talton. After failing to live up to his own expectations a year ago, playing a key role on a team aiming for the NCAA Tournament is satisfying.
“It means a lot,” he said. “This is my last year, so it’s literally do or die. I just had to come and play every game and play like it’s my last.”