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Maine visit a chance for CU Buffs men’s basketball to address shortcomings

Buffs seek 3-0 start in first matchup against Black Bears

University of Colorado Boulder's KJ Simpson ...
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado freshman guard KJ Simpson is set to play his first game at Arizona, where he originally signed. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The Colorado men’s basketball team has passed its first two tests, showing mettle down the stretch in opening wins against Montana State and New Mexico.

There has been plenty for Buffaloes fans to be encouraged about through two games. After struggling from 3-point range in two preseason games, CU has shot .444 from the arc. New starting point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy has electrified the offense, Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet have displayed the steady combination of leadership and production expected of seniors, and youngsters like Nique Clifford and KJ Simpson have provided sparks off the bench.

However, the Buffs and head coach Tad Boyle understand some of the things witnessed in the opening two games aren’t sustainable. CU can’t expect to average 35 free throw attempts per game, particularly once Pac-12 Conference play begins, and the Buffs certainly can’t expect to continue winning while averaging 17 turnovers a game.

CU might be able to win despite similar mistakes on Monday, when the Buffs complete a three-game, season-opening homestand against Maine. Yet as the Buffs look ahead to the three-game Paradise Jam tournament later this week, which will be followed by the first two games of the conference schedule, there remains plenty of teaching points for Boyle and his staff.

“That’s an area of concern for us at practice the last three weeks,” Boyle said after his team committed 18 turnovers during Saturday’s win against New Mexico. “At some point, if we don’t get that under control it’s going to cost us a game. It didn’t cost us Tuesday (against Montana State), it didn’t cost us (against New Mexico). But we’ve got a lot of improvement to make. We’ve just got to continue to move forward and get better.”

Each of CU’s turnover totals has been magnified by bloated by individual struggles. In the opener against Montana State, it was sophomore Jabari Walker who was charged six. Against New Mexico it was Barthelemy’s turn, as his stellar shooting and 20 points were offset by seven turnovers.

“I think the turnovers will clean itself up as we keep progressing, keep knowing what we’re looking for in this whole offense,” Battey said. “It’s multiple factors. Across the board, we just got to take care of the ball to a man.”

If the Buffs play well, Maine might offer an opportunity for a stress-free final 10 minutes. After both games Boyle has lamented not being able to get playing time for freshman guard Julian Hammond, the only active scholarship who has not played yet. Maine also could be a chance to see more minutes for Simpson, Lawson Lovering, and Luke O’Brien.

“I hope we can get deeper into our bench and start developing some depth,” Boyle said. “We didn’t get Luke in the (New Mexico) game in the second half. We kind of shortened our rotation a little bit. Julian hasn’t played the first two games. He was a little under the weather (Friday) with practice. But want to get those guys some extended minutes, because I think there’s going to be times we need those guys this year.”

Maine Black Bears at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Monday, 6 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Maine 2-0 (2-7 in 2020-21); Colorado 2-0 (23-9 in 2020-21).

COACHES: Maine — Richard Barron, 4th season. Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (291-209, 235-143 at Colorado).

KEY PLAYERS (Stats through two games): Maine — F Stephane Ingo, R-Jr., 8.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg; G LeChaun Duhart, Jr., 8.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg; G Vukasic Masic, So., 6.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg. Colorado — G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 19.5 ppg, 4.0 apg, 6-for-7 3-pointers; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 16.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 13-for-16 FG; F Jabari Walker, So., 1.5 ppg, 9.0 rpg; G Elijah Parquet, Sr., 16.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg.

NOTES: Maine opened the season with a 35-point loss at Virginia Tech and defeated Maine-Farmington, a Division III program, on Friday…Maine’s LeChaun Duhart is a Colorado native who averaged 17.6 points for Grandview High in Aurora as a senior. He played at Cal State San Bernadino and Western Wyoming Community College before landing at Maine. Duhart averaged 11.0 points during the Black Bears’ nine-game schedule last year…The Black Bears were picked to finish ninth in the 10-team America East Conference in the preseason coaches poll…This will be the first matchup between Maine and CU…The Buffs will depart on Wednesday for the Paradise Jam tournament in the US Virgin Islands (St. Thomas). CU begins play in the three-game tournament on Friday against Southern Illinois (6 p.m. MT, ESPN3).