Dreams of another run to the NIT Final Four, a destination the Colorado Buffaloes reached at the end of coach Tad Boyle’s first season in Boulder in 2011, might have flashed before the veteran coach’s eyes midway through the second half.
That is when sophomore Tyler Bey had his left leg rolled from behind, forcing Bey to the bench and then the locker room during the Buffs’ 78-73 win against Dayton in the first round of the NIT late Tuesday night at the CU Events Center.
Bey eventually returned to the game with 5:23 remaining but clearly was less than 100 percent. With the Buffs still waiting to find out the date and opponent of their second-round foe — CU will play the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between Norfolk State and Alabama — Boyle said Bey’s might have more clarity on Wednesday.
“We’ll find out more (Wednesday),” Boyle said. “He had pain in his knee, but the doctors felt like it was stable enough he could back in. I know his ankle was hurting at the end, too. He’ll get in the training room tonight. He’ll get there tomorrow.
“D’Shawn (Schwartz) played heavy minutes. McKinley (Wright) played heavy minutes. Tyler tweaked his leg there. So it’s about recovery (Wednesday). Practice is a little overrated this time of year. But we have to stay sharp in everything that we’re doing.”
Bey, the winner of this season’s Pac-12 Conference Most Improved Player award, had recorded his 16th double-double of the season and the 18th of his career by halftime, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Bey also collected one steal, one assist, and a blocked shot without committing a turnover as CU finished with a season-low seven turnovers.
Like last week’s win against Oregon State in the Pac-12 quarterfinals, reserve forward Alex Strating picked a big moment to make a big contribution.
Strating played a leading role in a 10-0 CU run during the first half that turned a seven-point deficit for the Buffs into a two-point lead. The redshirt sophomore scored half of those points — knocking down a jumper from the free throw line, converting a rebound basket, and making 1 of 2 free throws — and also drew three Dayton fouls during the run.
Strating recorded five points, three rebounds, and one steal without a turnover in 10 minutes.
“That’s just who he is,” Boyle said. “He’s always in the right spot. Guys like that are invaluable to your team, and Alex puts the team first. He truly does. A lot of people say they do, but when they don’t have a good game or they don’t play a lot, their heads go down, they feel sorry for themselves. Alex doesn’t do that. He just comes to work the next day and says, ‘OK, how am I going to make myself better? How am I going to make the team better?’ He’s a gem to coach.”
Dayton’s .545 shooting percentage was the sixth time this season an opponent has topped 50 percent against the Buffs…CU went 16-for-18 at the free throw line and has shot at least 80 percent in each of the past three games. The Buffs are 60-for-71 (.845) during that span…Tuesday’s attendance of 3,091 was lower than any of the three previous NIT games held at the CU Events Center in 2011. The first-round win in 2011 against Texas Southern drew 6,299 fans…The Buffs improved to 14-2 at home.