Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Daily Camera file photo
Last spring, as the Colorado men’s basketball team began turning the page to start plotting for the 2021-22 season, head coach Tad Boyle called a meeting.
Talking with his two seniors, Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet, as well as the four freshmen who were going to be counted on to fill bigger roles as sophomores this fall, the group arrived at an important conclusion. Even though sturdy point guard McKinley Wright IV and a number of other dependable veterans were leaving the program, the grit and determination demonstrated by last year’s NCAA Tournament team would not be sacrificed despite an overhauled rotation.
So far, the Buffaloes certainly haven’t flinched.
The season is just two games old, yet the Buffs already are showing a knack for getting things done at crunch time. After dispatching Montana State for a comeback, overtime win in the season opener, CU once again made the big plays when it mattered most on Saturday, outlasting New Mexico down the stretch for an 87-76 nonconference victory at the CU Events Center.
“We’ve got a competitive group,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We talked about it last spring with the returning guys…we talked about the fact that just because we lost a bunch of seniors and we’re going to be young, we’re not going to use that as an excuse. We’ve got to bow our backs. We’ve got a competitive group that wants to maintain the standards that this program has set for itself over the past several years.”
CU led 42-36 at halftime and never trailed after the break, but 18 turnovers by the Buffs led to an 18-12 advantage on points off turnovers for the Lobos that kept the visitors in the game.
New Mexico cut CU’s lead to 77-74 on a 3-point play from Jamal Mashburn Jr. with 2 minutes 6 seconds remaining, but an Evan Battey inside bucket followed by an Elijah Parquet-to-Jabari Walker layup pushed CU’s lead to 81-74 with 1:13 to go. That burst sent the Buffs into a run of 10 consecutive points that iced the win.
After Walker’s layup from Parquet, he made a highlight-reel block at the rim on a chance by New Mexico’s Jay Allen-Tovar. The ensuing CU possession ended with two free throws from Nique Clifford, and the Buffs were on their way to victory.
“It speaks to how close we are as a group,” Walker said. “We trust each other. We just want to play for the next man and play for each other. At crunch time, we all know we have our brothers and we can trust each and every one of our guys. We could do it a lot earlier, and that’s what we’re going to improve on going forward. But definitely, when it’s needed at the end, every guy steps up.”
Point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy battled through a rough seven-turnover performance but made amends on offense, going 3-for-4 on 3-pointers and 7-for-8 on free throws before finishing with a team-best 20 points. CU’s new starting point guard and Wright’s heir apparent has paced the Buffs in scoring in both games while starting the season 6-for-7 on 3-pointers.
Walker recorded his first double-double of the season and the third of his career, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Battey went 7-for-10 from the floor, posting 16 points and six rebounds.
New Mexico struggled to a .261 mark on 3-pointers (6-for-23), but the Lobos shot over 51 percent on their other shots and went 18-for-22 at the free-throw line.
“It wasn’t pretty at times. We still have a lot of work to do in different areas,” Boyle said. “Our guys show grit and toughness when they need to. But for us, to extend leads and put games away, we’ve got to become better defensively, and we’ve got to be better at taking care of the basketball.”
What went right: CU went 7-for-17 on 3-pointers and shot 33 free throws (making 24). The Buffs also outrebounded New Mexico 47-27 and held the Lobos to a 6-for-23 mark from the 3-point line.
What went wrong: The Buffs committed 18 turnovers, which was the biggest reason the Lobos were able to stay in the game.
Star of the game: Jabari Walker. The sophomore forward recorded his first double-double of the season and the third of his career, posting 17 points, 10 rebounds, and a monster blocked shot during the Buffs’ late, game-clinching run.
What’s next: The Buffs will face a short turnaround before completing a season-opening three-game homestand on Monday night against Maine (6 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).
Colorado 87, New Mexico 76
NEW MEXICO (1-1)
Allen-Tovar 1-5 1-2 3, Muscadin 1-4 3-4 5, House 7-15 5-5 22, Mashburn 8-16 3-4 20, Todd 4-6 4-5 12, Johnson 3-5 2-2 10, Seck 0-1 0-0 0, Jenkins 0-6 0-0 0, Forsling 2-2 0-0 4, Arroyo 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 18-22 76.
Battey 7-10 0-0 16, Walker 4-10 9-12 17, da Silva 2-5 0-0 4, Barthelemy 5-10 7-8 20, Parquet 3-5 3-4 10, Clifford 2-6 4-4 8, Simpson 2-5 1-3 6, Lovering 3-5 0-0 6, O’Brien 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 28-57 24-33 87.
Halftime — Colorado 42-36. 3-point goals — New Mexico 6-23 (House 3-7, Johnson 2-3, Mashburn 1-6, Allen-Tovar 0-3, Jenkins 0-4), Colorado 7-17 (Barthelemy 3-4, Battey 2-2, Parquet 1-2, Simpson 1-2, da Silva 0-1, Clifford 0-2, Walker 0-4). Fouled out — House, Todd, Seck. Rebounds — New Mexico 27 (Muscadin, Mashburn, Seck 5), Colorado 47 (Walker 10). Assists — New Mexico 7 (House 4), Colorado 14 (Barthelemy, Parquet, Simpson 3). Total fouls — New Mexico 27, Colorado 21. A — 7,115.