In what was a cold, blustery Saturday evening outside of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the Colorado Buffaloes braved the chilly fall weather and turned in a hot performance within the cozy confines of Clune Arena.
The Buffs worked off their Thanksgiving meals and were able to defeat intrastate rival Air Force Falcons (2-4) by a score of 93-56 to improve to 3-1 on the season.
The win in the Springs snapped Colorado’s six-game road losing streak. The Buffs just suffered their first loss of the season in San Diego on Tuesday and hadn’t won outside of Boulder since Jan. 13, 2018 at UCLA.
“After coming back from San Diego and then having the Thanksgiving holiday, we practiced [for the first time] yesterday,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “Air Force is a tough team to prepare for in one day with the offense they run, so I thought the guys did a good job.”
Colorado moved to 25-3 all-time in the series against their intrastate rivals, dating back to the teams’ first matchup in Boulder in 1958.
The Buffs erupted out of the gate to take a commanding 23-9 lead 10 minutes into the first half of play. Junior forward Lucas Siewert paced the Buffs with two three-pointers and eight total points during their dominant early run. Five different Buffs each had three-pointers during the span.
By the end of the first 20 minutes, Siewert still stood atop the scoring leaderboard with 10 points and a perfect 3-of-3 from the field. When the final buzzer sounded, Siewert had tied his career-best with 17 total points in the contest, while also tying his career-high of eight rebounds.
Indeed, the junior shot lights out Saturday evening. He was a perfect 6-of-6 on the floor, which included three from beyond the arc, plus an additional 2-for-2 on the free throw line.
“I’ve just been working on my shot a lot every day,” said Siewert. “When I go into a game, I just try to do what I do in practice and shoot with confidence … I worked a lot on my post game and it showed tonight. I worked a lot on my three-pointer and it showed tonight, as well.”
Siewert and the rest of the Buffs outshot Air Force 58.6 percent to 37 percent from the floor and a dominant 48.3 percent to 7.7 percent margin from beyond the three-point line.
It wasn’t all fun and games for Colorado in the first half, however. Lost among the celebration of a solid performance from the Buffs was the fact that Boyle and company were missing their strong sophomore guard, and leading rebounder and blocker Tyler Bey, who left early in the first half after falling awkwardly on his shoulder while attempting an alley-oop over a Falcons’ defender.
Bey is a very important part of the Buffs’ defense. His 9.7 rebounds-per-game average entering Saturday’s contest was over double the next Buffs’ best and his three blocks-per-game average was triple his next teammate’s.
It sure seemed as if the Buffs missed Bey, too. Right after losing arguably their best defensive player, Colorado allowed Air Force to go on 17-13 run to close out the final half of play, settling for only a somewhat comfortable 36-26 lead heading into the locker room.
Bey did not return to the game.
“We need Tyler Bey, obviously, to be as good as we need to be,” Boyle said. He’s our best athlete, he’s our best shot blocker, he’s our best rebounder, so hopefully, we get him back soon.”
The aforementioned injured guard was replaced by redshirt freshman Evan Battey, who proved to be a very serviceable replacement, tallying nine points throughout the contest. It was a nice follow-up to his career-high 18 points against San Diego in the Buffs’ last outing on Nov. 20. He also led the team in offensive rebounds and tied the team lead in steals.
Battey’s play has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
“I felt a lot of energy from him the past two games,” said senior guard Namon Wright. “A lot of freshmen don’t reach [his] kind of numbers that early. That goes to show you how much potential he had and how much of a piece he is for us.”
By midway through the second half of play, Battey and the rest of Colorado again proved to be strong coming out of the locker room and settled into the game nicely. The Buffs went on a 28-14 run in the first 10 minutes to control the back 20 minutes of the game. At that point, Colorado ran away with the game.
Overall, the Buffaloes looked like a much more refined team coming out of the halftime break, something the team would like to maintain throughout the year, especially on the road.
“[In the] second half, I thought we shared the ball better offensively,” said Boyle. “We talked about not taking our foot off the gas and I thought we did that little bit in the first half.”
The Buffs shot a very solid 73.3 percent, a 30-point improvement over the first half, while limiting Air Force to just a 35.7 percent field goal conversion rate, a three-point decrease for the Falcons.
“[Air Force] really went on a big run [to end the first half],” said sophomore forward D’Shawn Schwartz. “We just knew we needed to set the tone for the [second] half and come out and … try to get ahead.”
It was a solid win for Colorado, with a couple of Buffs in particular enjoying a memorable game.
Schwartz, a Colorado Springs native, returned “home” on Saturday for the first time since joining CU. The 6-foot-7 Sand Creek High School standout enjoyed an 11-point performance just days after the sophomore posted a career-best 15 points against Omaha on Nov. 16.
Sophomore McKinley Wright IV tallied his 500th career point at CU during the game’s first half, and Colorado’s leading scorer (14.7 points per game) finished the contest with six rebounds and a team-leading five assists.
The Buffs return to the CU Events Center for a four-game homestand, which tips off Wednesday, Nov. 28 against the Portland Pirates.
Contact CU Independent sports staff writer Scott MacDonald at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.