CONWAY, S.C. — So far it’s one step forward, one backward for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
The Buffaloes were unable to build on the momentum they gained with a huge upset win against then-No. 11 Tennessee on Sunday, stumbling in the opening game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational with a 66-63 defeat against UMass at the HTC Center on Thursday.
Through four games, CU has traded wins and losses, and Thursday’s defeat followed a similar blueprint to last week’s setback at Grambling State — the Buffs flailed defensively during the first half, then found themselves buried in too big a hole to rescue themselves from.
“We wouldn’t be in this position if we had max energy and max effort from the get-go,” CU junior Tristan da Silva said. “We put ourselves in that situation. Once again, it’s all about energy from the get-go. That’s what it ultimately comes down to.”
UMass, which had been idle for a week after losing at home against Towson, shot .533 during the first half (16-for-30) while the Buffs repeatedly missed prime opportunities around the rim throughout the contest. CU used 19 offensive rebounds to put up 20 more shots than the Minutemen, but the teams finished with an identical field goal total of 25.
CU went just 6-for-25 on 3-pointers and also struggled at the free throw line, finishing 7-for-13.
Much of the damage inflicted against the Buffs was done by a pair of UMass backcourt players, Noah Fernandes and RJ Luis. Fernandes posted a game-high 22 points and went 9-for-16 at the free throw line. Luis, a true freshman, went 5-for-21 with four total rebounds in the Minutemen’s first two games. He went 8-for-11 against the Buffs with 18 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
“Nobody could guard Fernandes in the first half and nobody could guard Luis, who’s a freshman,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “(Luis) is a good player, he’s a talented player. But he hasn’t done that against anybody. He did it against us. So we have to look at our matchups. We have to look at who’s guarding, who’s not. The film will tell us a lot on that. Our first half defense was nowhere near as good as it needed to be.”
The Minutemen led 37-34 at halftime following a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes, and UMass quickly extended its lead to eight points in the first minute of the second half.
A dominant UMass run midway through the second half made the difference. While the Buffs missed nine consecutive field goal attempts, UMass took control with an 11-0 run. CU attempted to chip away late, using a 6-0 burst to get within three points with 4 minutes, 12 seconds remaining. But the struggles at the free throw line (4-for-9 in the second half) and another scoring drought of 2:55 thwarted the comeback bid.
Despite the bricks at the free throw line, the Buffs still had a chance in the final minute after da Silva knocked down a 3-pointer and a turnaround fade-away from the post on consecutive possessions, cutting the UMass lead to 65-63. The Minutemen made just 1 of 2 free throws, giving the Buffs the ball with 6.5 seconds remaining.
Sophomore guard KJ Simpson had a good look on a top-of-the-arc 3-pointer, and actually had a second attempt thanks to a J’Vonne Hadley offensive rebound, but both chances were just off the mark.
“Our guys fight. They come back,” Boyle said. “They claw. They scratch. I like the competitiveness of our group. But we’re not good enough for 40 minutes. We have to understand there’s a lot of good players in college basketball. I don’t care what league you’re talking about. If you’re not ready to go, you’re going to get beat. That’s what happened to us. We weren’t ready to go from the get-go. I don’t know why.
“With that being said, we had a shot there at the end to actually win the thing and they didn’t go in. We had some good looks that didn’t go in.”
Snapshot: CU Buffs vs. UMass
Turning point: Midway through the second half, CU missed nine consecutive shots while UMass reeled off an 11-0 run, forcing the Buffs to play catch-up the rest of the way.
Buff of the game: KJ Simpson. The reigning Pac-12 player of the week was just 4-for-16, but he finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and a career-high-tying six assists.
What’s next: The Buffs will play No. 24 Texas A&M, which followed the CU game with a loss against Murray State, on Friday (10 a.m. MT, ESPNU).
UMass 66, Colorado 63
da Silva 8-15 0-0 17, Lovering 4-5 0-0 8, Clifford 0-5 0-0 0, Hadley 3-9 0-2 6, Simpson 4-16 3-3 13, Gabbidon 2-7 4-7 9, Hammond 2-6 0-1 5, Wright 1-3 0-0 2, O’Brien 0-3 0-0 0, Ruffin 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 25-73 7-13 63.
Cross 1-6 0-0 2, Martin 1-2 0-0 2, Leveque 1-3 1-2 3, Fernandes 6-12 9-16 22, Weeks 1-4 0-0 2, Diggins 1-2 0-0 2, Kante 5-8 0-0 10, Luis 8-11 0-0 18, Dominguez 0-2 1-2 1, K.Thompson 1-2 2-2 4, Gapare 0-1 0-0 0, G.Thompson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 13-22 66.
Halftime — UMass 37-34. 3-point field goals — Colorado 6-25 (Simpson 2-7, Gabbidon 1-3, Hammond 1-3, Ruffin 1-3, da Silva 1-4, Wright 0-1, Clifford 0-2, O’Brien 0-2), UMass 3-11 (Luis 2-3, Fernandes 1-2, Cross 0-1, Diggins 0-1, Dominguez 0-1, Gapare 0-1, Weeks 0-2). Rebounds — Colorado 43 (Hadley 9), UMass 38 (Cross 8). Assists — Colorado 16 (Simpson 6), UMass 9 (Fernandes, Weeks, Diggins 2). Total Fouls — Colorado 17, UMass 16. A — 1,256 (3,600).