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After topping Tennessee, Ethan Wright and CU Buffs looking for more at Myrtle Beach Invite

University of Colorado Boulder's Ethan Wright ...
After making his first two 3-pointers with Colorado, Ethan Wright and the Buffs look to keep rolling at the Myrtle Beach Invitational. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

NASHVILLE — By no means is an 0-for-2 start from long range indicative of any sort of shooting slump.

Yet for Ethan Wright, it might have felt more like 0-for-20.

That changed on Sunday. Not only did Wright draw a starting assignment, but he knocked down a pair of key 3-pointers — his first from long range with the Buffs — as CU bounced back from a bad loss at Grambling State with a huge 78-66 win against then-No. 11 Tennessee.

Wright, a graduate transfer, played in 75 games at Princeton, starting all 30 for the Tigers last season while earning second team All-Ivy League honors. He ranks 18th in Princeton history in made 3-pointers, but has been ready to embrace a role as a 3-point shooter off the bench with the Buffs. But Wright suddenly found himself in the starting lineup against the Volunteers as head coach Tad Boyle juggled his lineup in response to his team’s listless effort at Grambling.

Wright and the Buffs will look to keep their newfound momentum rolling on the final leg of their five-game road trip in South Carolina, where CU begins play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational on Thursday against UMass.

“It felt great,” Wright said. “I hadn’t made a three yet this year, and that’s kind of what I do. The coaches and my teammates have given me a lot of confidence to keep shooting. (Sunday) I got some good ones and they happened to go in. I just had incredible support from the other guys, so I was ready to go when they needed me.”

Wright knocked down his first CU 3-pointer early against the Volunteers, converting a kick-out pass from Lawson Lovering while answering an opening 4-point play from Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi.

The Buffs led by just one point when Wright, off an assist from Julian Hammond III, hit his second 3-pointer midway through the second half. From that shot forward, CU outscored the Vols 32-21.

It is just the second week of the season, but in a 40-hour span last week the Buffs may have learned a crucial lesson that could serve them well in Myrtle Beach and beyond. The effort, particularly on defense, simply wasn’t there at Grambling, and the Buffs lost against a less talented but far hungrier team.

The opposite was the case on Sunday. The talent gap between CU and the Vols may not have been quite as wide as between Grambling and the Buffs, but the energy and intensity on display during the win in Nashville should serve notice the Buffs have the ability to defeat anybody on their schedule — assuming they hit the floor with that same energy and intensity every night.

“We talk a lot about how you’re going to respond, how you’re going to handle adversity,” Wright said. “We’re now three games into the season, but we’ve got a lot of season left. We’re going to be in tough spots. There’s going to be in games on the road where there’s not a lot of people in the gym, not a lot of energy, and you’ve got to come in with the same mindset every game.

“What coach says a lot that we really have to resonate is we have to respect everybody but fear nobody. He said we didn’t respect Grambling going in and we took that game for granted. But we didn’t fear Tennessee and responded. That’s kind of what the season’s about, is responding. I think we’re going to have a much better mindset going into every game and it’s going to be a great lesson for us going down the line.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball vs. UMass Minutemen

TIPOFF: Thursday, 11:30 a.m. MT, HTC Center, Conway, S.C.

TV/RADIO: TV — ESPNU. Radio — KOA AM 850 and 94.1 FM.

RECORDS: Colorado 2-1; UMass 1-1.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 13th season (256-156, 312-222 overall). UMass — Frank Martin, 1st season (1-1, 289-202 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G KJ Simpson, 6-2, So. (17.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.3 apg); F J’Vonne Hadley, 6-6, Jr. (11.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg); G Jalen Gabbidon, 6-5, Gr. (10.3 ppg, 2.0 spg); F Tristan da Silva, 6-9, Jr. (10.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4-for-9 3-pointers). UMass — F Isaac Kante, 6-7, Gr. (13.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 10-for-14 FGs); F Dyondre Dominguez, 6-9, Jr. (10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg);  G Noah Fernandes, 5-11, Sr. (7.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.0 apg).

NOTES: The matchup marks a return to South Carolina for first-year UMass coach Frank Martin, whose 10-year run at the University of South Carolina ended after last season. Martin led the Gamecocks to their first Final Four in 2017…Martin also was the head coach at Kansas State for five seasons between 2007-08 and 2011-12. KSU was a Big 12 rival of the Buffs those years, with Martin going 6-3 against CU during that span. All three Buffs wins in that stretch occurred in the 2010-11 season, CU’s last year in the Big 12 and the Buffs’ first season under head coach Tad Boyle…UMass opened the Martin era with a 94-67 home win against Central Connecticut State before suffering a 67-55 home loss against Towson on Nov. 10…The Buffs will play either No. 24 Texas A&M or Murray State on Friday. If the Buffs defeat UMass, the Friday game will be at noon MT. If they lose, Friday’s tipoff will be at 10 a.m. MT…Saturday will be an off-day for the tournament before completing play on Sunday. The other first-round games on Thursday on the opposite side of the bracket from CU are Boise State against Charlotte (5 p.m. MT, ESPNews) and Loyola Chicago against Tulsa (7:30 p.m. MT, ESPNU)…The Buffs are 1-2 all-time against UMass, and all three games also were played on neutral floors — a CU loss on Dec. 29, 1989 at the Mile High Classic in Denver; a win at Madison Square Garden in the 1991 NIT; and another loss on Dec. 20, 1997 in Las Vegas.