Coming into the season, the Colorado men’s basketball team knew it had some veteran depth at guard.
Facing one of the top teams in the country on Thursday night, however, head coach Tad Boyle turned to a pair of freshmen.
For the first time all season, senior Josh Fortune was not in the starting lineup during the Buffaloes’ 104-89 loss to the No. 4 Bruins. True freshmen Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters combined for 33 minutes, while Fortune played just three minutes, all in the first half.
“They’re both going to be very good players at Colorado before it’s all said and done,” Boyle said of Brown and Peters. “You hate to have to count on them, but if nobody else is going to do it, they’re going to get their shot. They got their shot last night and I thought for the most part handled it pretty well.”
The freshmen compete with Fortune, junior Dominique Collier and sophomore Thomas Akyazili for playing time, and Boyle said he felt Brown and Peters deserved to be on the court against the Bruins.
“I don’t see a lot of separation right now with those five guys,” Boyle said. “The one thing we know we get from Bryce and Deleon is we get great energy, great defensive effort. If they’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to make mistakes really trying, really competing and we need that. I felt like we need that youthful exuberance injected into our veins.”
Brown, who had three points in 16 minutes, admitted he was nervous to get the starting nod, but expected those feelings.
“My first start, I feel like you should be nervous, but defensively, I feel I came in and did my job, at least for the first half,” he said. “I’m glad to get those first (start) jitters out of the way.”
Peters had a career-high 11 points, while playing 17 minutes off the bench.
“I made some mistakes, but overall I know that my job as a freshman is to come in and play my hardest,” Peters said. “Coach Boyle doesn’t expect me to be perfect because he knows I’m not a veteran, but I always come in thinking defense first. That’s what I take pride in, but overall 11 points is not that bad.”
Among that group of five, Boyle’s decision doesn’t have much to do with offense, he said. Fortune has been mired in a slump, while none of the other four have proven to be major weapons on offense.
“It’s almost like a ‘Who is doing it that night type of thing?'” Boyle said. “Who is going to give us the most energy? Who is going to play the hardest? That’s kind of the decision I’ve come to is, look, if no one is really going to step up and produce (offensively), let’s go with the guys that defend and play with great energy.”
Energy is no problem for Brown and Peters, who have embraced the opportunity they’ve had this season to get into the rotation and make an impact any way they can.
“We’re like the energizer bunnies for this team,” Peters said.
That just might help the duo earn even more playing time going forward if they keep it up.
“If it’s not happening, I’m going to keep searching,” Boyle said of rotating through the group. “Right now, we’re still searching. I know they’re all capable. I know that. Now, who is going to step up and get it done?”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.