What went right: CU shot .540 (27-for-50) from the floor, its second-best mark of the season.
What went wrong: For the third time in four games the Buffs were outrebounded, with Air Force claiming a 38-33 edge on the glass. CU’s 12 turnovers in the first half was the most in one half this season for the Buffs.
Star of the game: Wesley Gordon. The senior forward overcame early turnover issues to finish with a solid all-around stat line, going 4-for-5 from the floor with 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and five blocked shots.
What’s next: The Buffs complete the nonconference portion of the schedule at home Thursday against Eastern Washington at 6:30 p.m.
AIR FORCE ACADEMY — It wasn’t the return to form the Colorado Buffaloes were hoping for in their final nonconference road game.
In fact, for much of Monday’s showdown at Air Force many of the shortcomings that have plagued coach Tad Boyle’s basketball squad appeared to be reaching new depths of frustration.
For the third time in four games the Buffs were outrebounded, this time by a much smaller Air Force squad. CU committed a whopping 12 turnovers in the first half and, though the game plan called for the Buffs to work from the inside out, they put up just one field goal attempt from inside the 3-point arc during the game’s first 10 minutes. And when the Buffs finally had a chance to end the drama late, they went 0-for-6 at the free throw line over the final 1 minute, 17 seconds.
In the end, however, CU was able to put together enough timely scoring runs to eventually hold off the always-scrappy Falcons, as the Buffs posted a 75-68 victory at Clune Arena.
“It’s always something with this team,” Boyle said. “This was a good win. We found a way. We missed six free throws down the stretch. I felt like we should’ve been up 15 at half but we weren’t because we turned the ball over. But we found a way to win.
“I’m really disappointed in the rebounding. I think that’s the biggest thing. Three out of the last four games we’ve been outrebounded. And that’s not Colorado basketball. That’s not who we’re about. We’ve got to fix that.”
The game was tied 48-48 after a pair of free throws by Air Force’s Zach Kocur with 9:55 remaining, but a 3-point play from CU freshman Deleon Brown began an 8-2 run by the Buffs that gave them the lead for good. CU outscored the Falcons 23-10 after that 48-48 tie before holding off Air Force down the stretch.
Air Force scored eight consecutive points to pull within five points with 2:23 to go, but CU guard Derrick White found George King for an easy layup and, after an Air Force free throw, a breakaway dunk from King gave the Buffs enough of a cushion to overcome their late woes at the free-throw line.
While the Buffs certainly will take the victory heading into the season’s final nonconference date at home Thursday against Eastern Washington, CU still was unable to put a consistent, well-played 40 minutes together against a mid-major opponent. It is an unforeseen problem a veteran Buffs team still is trying to figure out.
For instance, while the Buffs turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, they also held Air Force to a .286 mark from the floor. In the second half CU committed just four turnovers but allowed the Falcons to grab nine of their 15 offensive rebounds.
“That’s a question coach Boyle asked us after our last game, and we couldn’t answer,” King said. “I sat and thought about it after he had questioned us, and I still can’t answer. That’s the question of the team right now. Why? We don’t know, but going forward we’ve got to be aggressive in both halves.”
Senior Xavier Johnson turned in another strong offensive game, going 5-for-7 from the field to pace the Buffs with 14 points. King and Wesley Gordon both nearly posted double-doubles, with Gordon finishing with 10 points, nine rebounds, and five blocked shots while King added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Brown turned in another solid game off the bench, posting 10 points and four assists. Junior guard Dom Collier, sidelined since playing just seven minutes in the second game of the season due to a stress fracture in his left foot, returned to the rotation and went 3-for-6 on 3-pointers with nine points.
Gordon, King, Johnson (six rebounds), and White (four rebounds) accounted for 28 of CU’s 33 rebounds.
“Twelve turnovers in the first half against a zone is hard to deal with,” Boyle said. “They had 15 offensive (rebounds). Start with that. You start with offensive rebounds and limit those. Fifteen is just not boxing out, (no) guards helping us rebound. It’s pathetic. There’s no other word for it.”
COLORADO 75, AIR FORCE 68
Gordon 4-5 2-4 10, King 6-12 0-2 13, Fortune 1-4 0-0 3, White 4-7 1-1 12, Johnson 5-7 3-4 14, Siewert 0-0 0-2 0, Miller 1-1 2-3 4, Collier 3-6 0-2 9, D.Brown 3-6 3-4 10, Akyazili 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 27-50 11-22 75.
AIR FORCE (6-6)
Graham 4-12 4-6 12, Toohey 2-5 0-0 5, Van 1-7 0-0 2, Siples 4-8 3-4 15, Kocur 4-8 2-2 12, Norman 2-2 3-3 7, Scottie 2-5 3-4 7, Manning 0-3 0-0 0, Louder 1-4 0-0 2, Lyons 2-7 1-1 6. Totals 22-61 16-20 68.
Halftime — Colorado 27-21. 3-point goals — Colorado 10-24 (White 3-5, Collier 3-6, Johnson 1-2, D.Brown 1-3, Fortune 1-3, King 1-4, Akyazili 0-1), Air Force 8-26 (Siples 4-6, Kocur 2-5, Toohey 1-1, Lyons 1-2, Manning 0-1, Louder 0-2, Van 0-4, Graham 0-5). Fouled out — Toohey, White. Rebounds — Colorado 30 (Gordon, King 9), Air Force 36 (Graham 9). Assists — Colorado 18 (D.Brown 4), Air Force 14 (Van 3). Total fouls — Colorado 22, Air Force 22. A — 3,530 (5,858).