Buffs keep season alive with 97-85 victory over Arizona State

Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV celebrates a Buff score during the final seconds of the first half of play at Pauley Pavilion. Jan. 13, 2018 (Nigel Amstock/CU Independent File)

The Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team went into their Pac-12 tournament opener knowing they would have to pull out a victory over Arizona State in order to keep their small hopes for an NCAA tournament berth alive. Wednesday, they did just that.

The eight seeded Buffs (17-14, 8-10) pulled away late during Wednesday afternoon’s contest to beat the nine-seed Sun Devils (20-11, 8-10) 97-85 in Las Vegas. Though CU finished with a better conference seed, ASU was favored by seven points, making it a quality upset victory for the team.

Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV lead the way for the victors, with 20 points. Senior guard Dominique Collier added another 17 and freshman forward Tyler Bey chipped in with 14 of his own. Remy Martin put up 20 points for the Sun Devils in the losing effort.

The Buffaloes were hot from the beginning, scoring 41 points in the first half, before absolutely catching fire in the second half in which they added on another 56. Overall, the team shot 53.2 percent from the field, including a season-high 61.9 percent from behind the arc, and went 18-20 from the charity stripe.

Along with some of the best shooting of the season for the Buffs, they only suffered seven turnovers, well below the team’s season average of over 13 per game. The combination of taking high-quality shots, while also not losing the ball, resulted in the most points CU has scored this season.

After a back-and-forth first half where neither team had a lead that was over five, the Buffs took a four-point advantage into the locker room. Playing against a fast-paced Arizona State team coached by Bobby Hurley, that break allowed the players to catch their breath and set them up for their second-half run.

During that second half, ASU crept back to take the lead 42-41 at the 18-minute mark. Later, Tra Holder hit a jumper to give the Sun Devils a 60-56 advantage with 12:06 to play.

The young Buffs didn’t lose confidence, instead, they went on an 11-1 run to put them up 71-61 with 7:40 to go. They never gave that lead up for the remainder of the game, and the closet ASU ever got to the lead after that was five points.

Throughout this season, CU has struggled to close out games, as they have had problems holding onto the ball and making their free throws. In the last two minutes of this contest, the team committed zero turnovers and went 9-10 from the line.

Tensions between the two squads got a little heated at the end when Holder took exception to a CU alley-oop with seven seconds remaining and pushed Bey in the back. All the players on the court came together and got in each other’s faces, and even CU head coach Tad Boyle ran out to try and break it up. No punches were thrown, but Holder received a technical foul, and was ejected.

Arizona State’s regular season is now over and they will now have to wait until Selection Sunday to see if they did enough to sneak their way into the NCAA tournament. After a hot start to the season, they have cooled off dramatically.

CU’s road is simple: the only way to get into the Big Dance is to win the conference tournament. The next step is to beat DeAndre Ayton and No. 1 Arizona, who has been in the national news recently due to a recruiting scandal and an FBI investigation.

The game will take place on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Tip-off is at 1:00 P.M. MST.

Contact CU Independent sports staff writer Vinny Lupo at vincent.lupo@colorado.edu and follow him on Twitter @vinny_lupo

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