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In a game featuring 68 fouls and 94 free throws, it was the trips to the foul line that ultimately made the difference.
Despite a home crowd of 10,852, which is a season-high and 212 short of a sellout, and a season-high 30 points from junior Cory Higgins, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team fell to the No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats 87-81 Saturday at the Coors Events Center.
The loss dropped CU to 10-7 overall, 1-2 in the Big 12 Conference. It also gave CU its first home blemish (9-1) of the season. Kansas State improved to 15-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big 12.
The Wildcats’ dynamic backcourt duo of junior Jacob Pullen (18 points) and senior Denis Clemente (15) led the team in scoring and the rest of their supporting cast did just enough to push K-State past a tough Buffaloes’ team hungry for a second straight upset.
In a closely officiated game where almost every hand-check, bump or love tap was called a foul, Colorado’s offense didn’t have its patented rhythm.
“They were officiating so tightly, cheap fouls and questionable fouls,” said forward Marcus Relphorde, who added 18 points. “It really hurt us.”
Senior guard Dwight Thorne II added, “It was hard to get into a rhythm, for both teams.”
The Buffs were called for a season-high 19 first-half fouls and their 36 total fouls tied the Coors Events Center record for most fouls made by one team (Northwestern State, Dec. 30, 1996). The 68 total fouls also marked a Coors Events Center record, surpassing the previous 63 vs. New Mexico State on Dec. 6, 1980.
Thorne, who hit a game-tying 3-pointer against Kansas State to send the game into overtime on Jan. 24, 2009, was one of three Buffs, along with forward Trey Eckloff and forward Austin Dufault, to foul out.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair that saw Colorado take its first lead, 23-22, on a Higgins layup with 8:09 to go. But a 9-0 K-State run broke a 27-all tie with 3:02 left. The Buffs were able to go into the half down 38-34.
A little more than three minutes into the second half, Relphorde’s 3-pointer tied the game at 40. After both teams exchanged buckets, Higgins stole the ball and beat everyone down the court to slam it home to put the Buffs on top and send the black and gold fans into a frenzy.
But the Wildcats responded with a 16-7 run and remained in the lead for the remainder of the game. The disappointment was written all over the players’ faces for not coming through for the Buff faithful.
“We wanted this one for the fans,” head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “They created such a wonderful environment.”
The Buffs had their chances to come back in the final minutes. Thorne’s 3-pointer with 40 seconds to play cut K-State’s lead to five. The Buffs then forced a turnover, but Higgins’ 3-point attempt was blocked. After missing 10 free throws in the first half, the Wildcats went 20-of-26 from the charity stripe in the second half, which helped them seal the deal.
Higgins, whose play kept the Buffs in the game when other options on offense weren’t effective, wasn’t satisfied with his game.
“Free throws, I missed four,” Higgins said. “That puts us right in the game if we make them. We don’t have the luxury of missing those.”
Colorado’s next game is against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Stillwater, Okla. The Buffs return to Boulder to face rival Nebraska at 8 p.m. on Jan. 27.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer David Starcer at David.firstname.lastname@example.org.