CONWAY, S.C. — Collectively, the Colorado men’s basketball team is fighting a knack for inconsistency that has led to shoddy defensive performances in both losses so far in the young season.
Individually, the Buffaloes are hoping Nique Clifford soon finds his game.
A rough start to the season for the junior wing from Colorado Springs continued during Thursday’s 66-63 loss against UMass in the opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
While the bulk of the starting lineup was benched to start what turned into a win against nationally-ranked Tennessee following last week’s loss at Grambling State, Clifford was the lone casualty of a lineup shakeup against UMass, as CU head coach Tad Boyle sent Jalen Gabbidon to the floor with the regular starters to begin the second half.
Clifford, who started the final half of last season, was one of CU’s few bright spots offensively last week at Grambling, going 7-for-12 with a career-high 15 points. In the other three games, however, Clifford has struggled.
Against UMass, Clifford went 0-for-5 and, after spending much of last season as the Buffs’ second-leading rebounder, he finished with just one rebound. In the three non-Grambling games, Clifford has gone 1-for-10 overall with just eight rebounds. Following Thursday’s loss, he is 2-for-10 on 3-pointers this season — after shooting 40% from long range last year — with six assists against 10 turnovers.
“That’s a good question,” Boyle said when asked how to get Clifford going. “I think Nique’s been struggling now for two to three weeks. He wasn’t at his best (Thursday). I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve got to try and help him.
“I talked to him after the Tennessee game and said, ‘Hey, listen, we’ve got confidence in you.’ But at some point he’s got to produce. When you have 10 guys, and you rely on 10 guys, you need those 10 guys to give you what they’re capable of giving you. It’s not like they have to make every shot. But they’ve got to be able to guard. You have to be able to guard when you come in the game. You have to be able to make a play for a teammate. You don’t have to score points. But he’s been struggling for a while now, so this is not just like a, ‘Oh wow, Nique struggled tonight.’ He’s been struggling for a while. We’ve got to get him going. We’ve got to figure out a way. I’ve got to do something as a coach to try and get him going.”
Perhaps overlooked in a disappointing defeat was the play of sophomore center Lawson Lovering, who enjoyed the finest game of his young career.
Lovering finished with career-highs of eight points and three assists, while also adding five rebounds (four offensive). Lovering finished 4-for-5 with a pair of tip dunks and was particularly effective early, knocking down his first field goal attempt and delivering a pair of assists before the first media timeout.
Lovering was whistled for a technical foul for taunting after one of those tip dunks, leading to one extra point for UMass.
The Buffs will face No. 24 Texas A&M in the first game on Friday (10 a.m. MT, ESPNU) after the Aggies lost to Murray State in their first game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
It will be the first matchup between the Buffs and Aggies since the programs left the Big 12 following the 2010-11 season. Texas A&M, now in the SEC, won the final eight games against CU, but the Buffs could probably take note of a few numbers from Thursday as they quickly get a game plan together. CU shot just .342 in its loss against UMass and finished 6-for-25 on 3-pointers. Against the A&M defense, Murray State finished 50% overall (25-for-50) with a 10-22 mark on 3-pointers.
After starting the season with three assists and four turnovers in a season-opening win against UC Riverside, CU point guard KJ Simpson has recorded 13 assists against six turnovers in the past three games…CU’s 6-for-25 effort on 3-pointers against UMass dropped their season 3-point percentage through four games to .294 (25-for-85)…By moving into the consolation bracket, CU on Sunday will play at either 2:30 p.m. MT (with a Friday loss) or 5 p.m. MT (with a Friday win) for the Myrtle Beach finale.