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Another defensive test arrives for CU Buffs men’s basketball against New Mexico

Buffs battle Lobos in game No. 2

BOULDER CO - November 9, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder's Keeshawn Barthelemy, left, and Evan Battey, guard Montana State's Jubilee  Belo on November 9, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER CO – November 9, 2021: University of Colorado Boulder’s Keeshawn Barthelemy, left, and Evan Battey, guard Montana State’s Jubilee Belo on November 9, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Colorado men’s basketball team displayed commendable grit and determination while rallying for an overtime victory against Montana State in the season opener earlier this week.

What the Buffs did not do, outside a few critical junctures at crunch time, was play the sort of defense head coach Tad Boyle always expects. In game number two, CU’s defense will have even less margin for error.

New Mexico arrives at the CU Events Center for a Saturday afternoon showdown with a new coach — Richard Pitino, who spent the past eight seasons as the head coach at Minnesota and is the son of coaching legend Rick Pitino — and a completely overhauled roster littered with transfers. The Lobos also are coming off a 99-point eruption in a season-opening win on Wednesday against Florida Atlantic.

“They’re extremely athletic. It’s maybe going to be a bigger, more athletic team than Montana State,” Boyle said. “Maybe not as cohesive because they haven’t been together as long, but very talented. We’d like one team to have 90 (points). I don’t like it when both teams have over 90. I’d love to have 90 but New Mexico, I’d like to hold them under 70. If we do that, we’ve made some progress.

“We are far from where we need to be. We gave up 21 points (against Montana State) switching ball screens. You should give zero. You’re switching to take away the roll. You’re switching to take away the pick-and-pop. We didn’t do either one. You want to take away something. We took away nothing. We’re going to be really tested in our ability to guard the ball against New Mexico.”

New Mexico might not allow the Buffs to get away with the sort of defense they played against Montana State.

The Bobcats shot .478 overall and went 12-for-30 (.400) from 3-point range against CU’s defense. Both teams reached 80 points in regulation, and ultimately it was the first time a Buffs game featured two teams scoring at least 90 points since a 112-103 double overtime win against South Dakota State on Dec. 15, 2017.

The matchup against the Lobos could make it two such games in a row.

Despite 12 transfers on the roster and an opening night starting lineup that featured five program newcomers for the first time in team history, the Lobos torched Florida Atlantic for a .530 mark from the field, including a 12-for-23 performance (.522) from 3-point range. CU once again will face a familiar foe on a new team, as former Arizona State guard Jaelen House posted 30 points and six assists in New Mexico’s opener.

Gethro Muscadin, a transfer from Kansas, went 6-for-8 with 18 points, two blocks and two steals.

“Montana State shot 48 percent. Which is too high. We’re aiming for 40 and below,” CU point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy said. “With New Mexico, we’ve just got to get in gaps and help each other. Because they’re a one-on-one team. They like to be flashy and go one-on-one and all that. If we play together defensively, we should be fine.”

New Mexico Lobos at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Saturday, 4:30 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain; Radio — 630 AM.

RECORDS: New Mexico 1-0 (6-16 in 2020-21); Colorado 1-0 (23-9 in 2020-21).

COACHES: New Mexico — Richard Pitino, 1st season (160-137 overall, 1-0 at New Mexico). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (290-209, 234-143 at Colorado).

KEY PLAYERS (Opening night stats): New Mexico — G Jaelen House, Jr., 10-for-19 FG, 30 points, six assists; F Jay Allen-Tovar, Jr., 7-for-14 FG, 18 points, eight rebounds, three blocks; G Jamal Mashburn Jr., So., 14 points three assists. Colorado: G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 3-3 3-pointers, 19 points, five assists, four rebounds; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 6-6 FG, 16 points, five rebounds; F Jabari Walker, So., 14 points, eight rebounds, three assists; G Elijah Parquet, Sr., 17 points, three rebounds.

NOTES: Including his four seasons at Northern Colorado, this will be Boyle’s 500th game as a head coach…The most recent matchup between the programs was a memorable one, as CU rallied from a 17-point first half deficit to post a 78-75 victory at New Mexico on Dec. 11, 2018. That game is tied for the seventh-biggest comeback in Buffs history. New Mexico’s last trip to Boulder resulted in a 75-57 Buffs victory on Dec. 6, 2017 behind a team-best 16 points from Dom Collier and a 12-point, 10-rebound performance by then-freshman McKinley Wright IV that marked the first of his 15 career double-doubles…CU leads the all-time series 8-7, with a 5-3 edge in Boulder…With Mark Johnson handling play-by-play duties for the football game at UCLA, Cory Lopez will handle the call against New Mexico on 630 AM alongside regular analyst Scott Wilke. Lopez also will call the Buffs’ three games at the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands next week…The Buffs will have a quick turnaround before hosting Maine on Monday (6 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).