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Evan Battey looks to get rolling for CU men’s basketball after slow start

Big man has struggled from floor through first three games

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In the first two games of the season, Colorado wasn’t perfect but did plenty of good things in a pair of opening wins. They struggled a little more on Tuesday, dropping a 56-47 decision at No. 12 Tennessee.

Tennessee’s John Fulkerson (10) passes the ball to a teammate while being defended by Colorado’s Evan Battey in the second half of a season-opener game between Tennessee and Colorado at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

Yet during good times or bad, the Buffaloes so far have done it all with minimal contributions from a player CU was counting upon heavily in fourth-year junior forward Evan Battey.

Always a cerebral player, CU head coach Tad Boyle said after Tuesday’s road loss he believes Battey is over-thinking somewhat when he gets the ball down low.

“I think he’s thinking a little bit too much when he’s got the ball on the block. I think he’s just got to play,” Boyle said. “He’s got good instincts. We’ve got to get him going offensively because he’s a weapon down there. Dallas Walton is a weapon down there. Those guys both had really good opportunities tonight to score.

“But we got stripped a lot. They were digging. Our spacing wasn’t always good. We had trouble catching and finishing tonight in the lane. Tennessee is very active. They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re very active hands. So they’re a tough team to score on. But we’ve got to find a way to get Evan going a little bit more offensively. But our whole group tonight was inept offensively. It wasn’t just Evan.”

Battey finished just 2-for-6 with four points, two rebounds, and three turnovers in just over 26 minutes against the Volunteers. A career .504 shooter coming into this season, it was the third straight rough shooting night for Battey to open the season. He went 3-for-8 in the opening win against South Dakota and 1-for-5 against Kansas State, and he will sport a 6-for-19 mark when the Buffs resume play on Dec. 14 at home against Northern Colorado (7 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).

Certainly the Buffs’ offense struggles at Tennessee didn’t begin, or end, with Battey. D’Shawn Schwartz returned to action following a positive COVID-19 test prior to the South Dakota game but went 0-for-5. Keeshawn Barthelemy, who made his first career start in place of Eli Parquet, went 3-for-12. And the Buffs committed 23 turnovers, the most since they also committed 23 in an ugly win against Cal in the opening round of the 2019 Pac-12 Conference tournament.

Still, the Buffs received just eight points, five rebounds, no assists, and six turnovers combined from their starting post players, Battey and Walton, against the Volunteers.

“We’ve got to do a better job concentrating and relying on each other offensively, rather than relying on our individual talents,” Boyle said. “Because we have some individually talented guys. But when you don’t play together and work together and move the ball and share the ball and take care of the ball, you’ve got no shot against a good team. And we played a good team (at Tennessee).

“Our players know we missed this opportunity.”

Presumably, the Buffs finally will be at full strength for their next date at Northern Colorado if they avoid any further coronavirus issues. Boyle didn’t disclose which player suffered the team’s second positive test of the season that caused the postponement of the first two Pac-12 games last week, but it likely was either Parquet or freshman Luke O’Brien, both of whom were absent on Tuesday. The 2-1 Buffs have yet to play a game at full strength.

“I thought our defense was good enough (at Tennessee) but our offense was atrocious,” Boyle said. “I take responsibility for that.”