ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands — Head coach Tad Boyle uttered the warning after his Colorado Buffaloes escaped with an overtime win in the second game of the Paradise Jam that pulse-pounding finishes could be the norm this season.
It took all of 48 hours for that theory to be proven true.
Once again CU’s fate wasn’t decided until the waning moments. And once again it was the Buffs that managed to prevail in crunch time, outlasting Brown for a 54-52 win on Monday in the finale of the Paradise Jam.
The Buffs head home with a fourth-place finish at the tournament, netting two wins after suffering the disappointment of getting sent out of the championship bracket with an opening-round loss against Southern Illinois. With a little momentum in their corner, CU will begin preparations for the Pac-12 Conference opener at home on Sunday against Stanford.
The Buffs struggled through a frustrating night offensively but turned in perhaps their top defensive effort of the young season. It wasn’t a huge offensive game for point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy, but he delivered a critical assist and knocked down a key jumper in the final 64 seconds to help lift the Buffs to victory.
Excluding a rout of Maine, CU’s other four victories have been by an average margin of just 5.8 points, including two overtime victories and the two-point win on Monday that wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
“It was a collective effort,” Barthelemy said. “We got stops at the end. We held them to (52) points. We always talk about making strides defensively, and I think we did that tonight. It wasn’t just my plays down the stretch. It was everybody.”
After allowing each of its previous two Paradise Jam opponents, Southern Illinois and Duquesne, to knock down double-digit 3-pointers, CU’s defense was superb following the first few minutes of the contest.
The Buffs limited Brown to a .302 mark from the field, the lowest total by a CU opponent through the first six games of the season. The Bears also finished just 4-for-23 on 3-pointers in a defensive effort made a little more impressive by an off game from Pac-12 All-Defense guard Elijah Parquet, who picked up two quick fouls and sat on the bench for the final 16 minutes, 16 seconds of the first half.
“I thought we did a really good job, in the second half especially, of knowing who are shooters and who are drivers,” Boyle said. “Knowing the scouting report, the guys did a really good job of that. We held them to four threes. Our defense took a step in the right direction.”
Other than a brief 2-1 lead in the opening moments, the Buffs didn’t lead until putting together a 9-0 run started by a 3-point play from KJ Simpson with 14:09 remaining.
The teams traded the advantage the rest of the way, though Brown took a 50-49 lead with 2:01 remaining on a baseline flip from Dan Friday. CU regained the lead for good on a layup from Evan Battey with 1:04 left off a nifty pass from Barthelemy and, after Jabari Walker forced a Brown turnover, Barthelemy delivered a jumper from the free throw line with 31.6 seconds left to give CU a 53-50 edge.
Brown’s Paxson Wojcik made two free throws with 2.8 seconds left to pull Brown within 53-52, though Wojcik’s body language indicated he may have been trying to miss the second attempt intentionally. Barthelemy hit 1 of 2 free throws with 2.3 seconds remaining, and after a desperate 70-foot heave from Brown went awry at the buzzer, CU started packing for home triumphantly.
Walker posted his second double-double of the tournament and his third of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“Any game that we win, I’m going to be excited about,” said senior Evan Battey, who paced the Buffs with 16 points. “It’s important we emphasize winning. It’s a fine line in college basketball. The wins have to be celebrated.”
What went right: The Buffs turned in their top defensive showing of the season, holding Brown to a .302 mark from the field and a 4-for-23 effort from 3-point range. Both were season-lows for a CU opponent.
What went wrong: CU went 1-for-9 on 3-pointers and committed 16 turnovers, leading to a 15-4 advantage for the Bears on points off turnovers.
Star of the game: Jabari Walker. With apologies to Evan Battey and the late heroics of Keeshawn Barthelemy, Walker posted his second double-double of the tournament and third of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. He also recorded two blocked shots and forced a critical Brown turnover in the final minute.
What’s next: The Buffs travel home Tuesday and resume practice on Wednesday ahead of the Pac-12 Conference opener at home on Sunday against Stanford (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
Colorado 54, Brown 52
Choh 1-9 3-4 5, Gainey 1-5 1-2 3, Friday 6-10 1-2 13, Mitchell 1-6 0-2 2, Wojcik 4-8 5-7 14, Lilly 2-9 0-0 6, Owusu-Anane 0-1 4-4 4, Ferrari 1-2 2-2 5, Cowan 0-2 0-0 0, Cooley 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-53 16-23 52.
Battey 6-15 4-4 16, Walker 3-8 4-6 10, da Silva 3-7 0-0 6, Barthelemy 2-6 3-4 7, Parquet 1-1 0-0 2, Clifford 1-3 0-0 3, Simpson 1-3 5-5 7, O’Brien 0-0 0-0 0, Lovering 0-1 1-2 1, Hammond 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 18-45 17-21 54.
Halftime — Brown 30-24. 3-point field goals — Brown 4-23 (Lilly 2-8, Ferrari 1-2, Wojcik 1-4, Cowan 0-2, Friday 0-2, Mitchell 0-2, Choh 0-3), Colorado 1-9 (Clifford 1-2, Battey 0-1, Simpson 0-1, Walker 0-1, da Silva 0-1, Barthelemy 0-3). Rebounds — Brown 30 (Mitchell 6), Colorado 39 (Walker 11). Assists — Brown 6 (Choh 3), Colorado 9 (Simpson 4). Total fouls — Brown 17, Colorado 21. A — 655 (3,000).