It took until the season’s fourth game, but the Colorado Buffaloes finally were at full strength Monday night.
And, coming off an underwhelming performance against a nationally-ranked foe, the full-strength Buffs may have provided a glimpse of their intriguing potential. CU took advantage of its size advantage for easy looks on offense while turning in a harassing effort on defense, leading the way to a lopsided 81-45 victory against Northern Colorado in the Buffs’ delayed home opener at the CU Events Center.
CU scored nearly as many points in the first half against the overmatched Bears (45) as it did the entire game last week during a 56-47 loss at Tennessee.
“I thought we were really efficient tonight,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We shot over 50 percent. I don’t think we’ve done that all year. And defensively, I thought we did a good job with our ball-screen coverages. Because Northern Colorado is a good ball-screen team, a good driving team. They’re a good 3-point shooting team. I thought we did a really good job defensively against them.”
From the opening tip, the Buffs made a concerted effort to get starting forwards Dallas Walton and Evan Battey involved against the smaller Bears. Walton, who was held to one shot attempt and two points at Tennessee, went 4-for-6 from the field and 3-for-3 on free throws while recording 12 points and four rebounds. Battey, who struggled to a 6-for-19 mark through the season’s first three games, finished 5-for-7 with 14 points and eight rebounds.
Northern Colorado, whose season was delayed due to preseason coronavirus issues, held a brief 3-2 lead early, but CU scored the next seven points and never trailed again. A 16-0 run by CU in the latter stages of the first half led to a 45-21 Buffs lead at halftime.
CU point guard McKinley Wright IV turned in another standout all-around performance, going 8-for-10 while posting 19 points, seven assists, and five rebounds. Overall, the Buffs shot .533 while holding UNC to a .288 mark.
“One thing coach Boyle has been telling our team is we’ve got weapons at all five positions, and we knew we had an advantage down low,” said Walton, who posted the fifth double-figure scoring game of his career and his first since Feb. 15, 2018. “In order to open up the floor for our shooters, we need to establish ourselves down low and establish an inside presence. It was nice getting those looks early and see a collective approach to our game plan of playing inside-out.”
After having their first two home games postponed, the Buffs will now have to brace for a quick turnaround as they host Omaha on Wednesday afternoon. For the first time this season, the Buffs will attack that turnaround with a full complement of players after coronavirus issues kept D’Shawn Schwartz, Eli Parquet, Keeshawn Barthelemy, Luke O’Brien, and Tristan da Silva out of at least one of the first three games.
“It’s the first time we’ve had all hands on deck, and you saw the result,” Boyle said. “It was great to have Eli and Luke back. It’s great to have D’Shawn back. When we’ve got all hands on deck, and we play unselfishly and play for each other and sacrifice for each other, this team has a chance to be pretty special.”
What went right: The Buffs shot the ball well (.533 overall, 6-for-13 on 3-pointers) and held UNC to a .288 mark from the field.
What went wrong: Very little. CU outrebounded the Bears 40-28 and forced 21 turnovers out of UNC.
Star of the game: CU enjoyed several strong performances, but point guard McKinley Wright IV finished 8-for-10 with 19 points, seven assists, and five rebounds.
What’s next: The Buffs will have a quick turnaround with a Wednesday afternoon home date against Omaha (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Colorado 81, N. Colorado 45
N. COLORADO (2-0)
Jockuch 2-5 2-4 6, Hume 4-12 0-0 11, Johnson 2-5 2-2 7, Kountz 2-9 1-2 5, Masten 2-8 2-2 6, McCobb 1-2 0-0 2, Bowie 0-5 0-0 0, English 1-2 0-0 3, Smoots 1-2 0-0 3, Grigsby 0-1 0-0 0, Kennedy 0-0 0-0 0, Little 0-0 0-0 0, Melvin 0-0 2-2 2, Hughes 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-52 9-12 45.
Battey 5-7 4-6 14, Walton 4-6 3-3 12, Parquet 3-5 1-1 7, Wright 8-10 0-0 19, Schwartz 1-4 0-0 3, Horne 3-5 2-2 9, Daniels 3-6 0-0 6, Barthelemy 3-7 0-0 6, Walker 1-5 1-2 3, Clifford 0-3 0-1 0, da Silva 0-0 0-0 0, O’Brien 1-2 0-0 2, Strating 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-60 11-15 81.
Halftime — Colorado 45-21. 3-point goals — N. Colorado 6-18 (Hume 3-7, Johnson 1-1, Smoots 1-1, English 1-2, Grigsby 0-1, Masten 0-1, Bowie 0-2, Kountz 0-3), Colorado 6-13 (Wright 3-4, Horne 1-1, Schwartz 1-1, Walton 1-2, Clifford 0-1, O’Brien 0-1, Walker 0-1, Barthelemy 0-2). Rebounds — N. Colorado 28 (Jockuch 8), Colorado 40 (Battey 8). Assists — N. Colorado 6 (Hume, Kountz, Masten, McCobb, Bowie, Kennedy 1), Colorado 16 (Wright 7). Total fouls — N. Colorado 18, Colorado 13.