ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands — Foul issues have been an early trouble spot for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
It happened again on Monday in the finale of the Paradise Jam, where the Buffaloes ultimately prevailed with a 54-52 win against Brown to collect consecutive victories after getting relegated to the consolation bracket with an opening-round loss against Southern Illinois on Friday.
At halftime against the Bears, it was easy to wonder how many players the Buffs might have available down the stretch.
Senior guard Elijah Parquet, the team’s top perimeter defender, sat the final 16 minutes, 16 seconds of the first half after picking up two quick fouls. Forward Jabari Walker went to the bench with 5:53 left in the first half after netting his second foul. Freshman guard KJ Simpson also had two fouls at the break and sophomore Luke O’Brien had three.
All those fouls allowed Brown to shoot 19 free throws in the first half. The Bears made 13, and that was a big reason why Brown held a 30-24 lead at the break. But after halftime CU managed to clean things up. The Buffs committed only eight fouls in the second half, leading to just four more free throw attempts for Brown.
“One of the keys to the game for us on the board that we didn’t do a good job of in the first half, and did a much better job of in the second half, was playing without fouling,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We knew that Brown was going to put their heads down and drive it. They’re a physical team. They rely on getting to the free throw line. We have to play without fouling. We gave them 19 free throws in the first half. It’s why they were in the game. We did a much better job in the second half of not fouling and they got four free throws. That was a key to the game.”
The unsung but quite boisterous contributions of Coco Englehart, the nine-year old daughter of strength and conditioning coach Steve Englehart, were celebrated during the game at the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center.
When each CU opponent attempted a free throw during the tournament, Coco stood with her black-and-gold pom-poms and serenaded the shooters with a variety of children’s classics, from “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” to “The Wheels on the Bus” to the Baby Shark song. In an arena with limited capacity due to local COVID restrictions, her little lungs reverberated loudly during each free throw attempt.
Coco was rewarded for her efforts with a halftime interview with the arena announcer and given free goodies at the concession stand. And her songs may have made an impact — CU’s three opponents at the Paradise Jam went just 36-for-53 (.679) at the free throw line.
Fun in sun
The last time CU played a multi-team event in a tropical location, the Buffs stumbled to two ugly losses in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic in 2018 before salvaging a win against Charlotte. Senior Evan Battey was there, and he didn’t want history to repeat.
“The last time I went to a tropical place to play a tournament it was Hawaii, and we only won (once). That wasn’t any fun,” Battey said. “But to come out 2-1, kind of the same situation with a young team, I just love playing with this team so much.”
CU’s track record in tropical locales during the MTE era of college basketball has been sketchy at best before Monday’s win gave them a 2-1 mark at the Paradise Jam. Here’s a look at those previous tropical tournament results, including a pair of wins in 1999 in Honolulu that would be improbable today.
2018 (Hawaii): 1-2 (loss to Indiana State, loss to Hawaii, win against Charlotte).
2014 (Hawaii): 1-2 (win against DePaul, loss to George Washington, loss to Hawaii).
2011 (Puerto Rico): 1-2 (loss to Wichita State, loss to Maryland, win against Western Michigan).
2009 (Hawaii): 1-2 (loss to Gonzaga, loss to Arizona, win against Chaminade).
2008 (Hawaii): 1-2 (win against Coppin State, loss against Buffalo, loss against Vermont).
1999 (Hawaii): 2-1 (win against Villanova, loss against Hawaii, win against Gonzaga).
1998 (Puerto Rico): 1-2 (loss against Kentucky, loss against Xavier, win against American University).
1996 (Hawaii): 2-1 (win against Auburn, win against Virginia Tech, loss against Louisville).
Boyle said the status of injured freshman guard Javon Ruffin will be reevaluated following the Thanksgiving weekend, with a possible redshirt season still very much on the table.
Ruffin suffered a dislocated right kneecap earlier this year that required surgery to repair cartilage damage. He did not play during CU’s four-game exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August, but he returned to practice early in preseason workouts in late September and early October.
However, Ruffin soon began experiencing swelling in his knee and went through what Boyle described as a “clean up” procedure. He played just four minutes in CU’s first exhibition game against Mines but did not play in the second exhibition game against Nebraska and has been sidelined from practice since.
CU outrebounded Brown 39-30 and has not been outrebounded yet this season (Southern Illinois was even at 27-27)…Buffs freshman guard KJ Simpson recorded a game-high four assists. Simpson also posted four assists against Duquesne on Saturday and has recorded at least three assists in four of his first six collegiate games.