Coming off a blowout win versus the Air Force Falcons on the road this past Saturday, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team hosted the Portland Pilots Wednesday evening at the CU Events Center, hoping to dispatch another non-conference opponent.
While the Pilots certainly kept things close for the majority of the game, the Buffaloes had pulled away by the 10-minute mark of the second half.
Ultimately, Portland was unable to match CU’s energy in the second half; the Buffaloes outscored the pilots in the final 20 minutes, 54-33.
The Buffs only got hotter while the Pilots had trouble making a majority of their shots in the second half; on the night, CU made 48 percent of its baskets, while Portland managed a 43 percent make rate.
Colorado was bolstered by solid performances by sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV and junior forward Lucas Siewert. The latter, having established career-highs in the rebound and points department vs. Air Force, was quick to get on pace to break his four-day-old records.
When the clocks read all zeroes, Siewert had himself a double-double, scoring 18 and snagging 10 rebounds. Wright IV contributed 22 points to the Buffs’ cause, a team-high, and had seven rebounds to go along with three assists.
Colorado led 39-36 at halftime behind 15 points from Siewert, who scored 12 of CU’s first 14 points. Wright IV was second with seven points in the initial half.
“[Siewert] carried us in the first half, offensively,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “He was the guy that we went to … he’s such a tough matchup because he can shoot the three and his post moves are getting better by the day.”
Earlier in the half, the Buffs seemed poised to start cruising; with 9:16 left before halftime, Colorado led 26-14. However, a 9-2 run by the Pilots in the ensuing two minutes brought Portland back into the game, although they still trailed 28-23 with just under seven minutes before the halfway point in the game.
The Pilots took a brief 34-33 advantage with 1:52 left before halftime, but four free throws by Wright IV as the half winded down helped boost the Buffs to a small lead as both teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.
The one-point lead enjoyed by Portland late in the first half would be the only time in the game minus a 4-3 lead very early on that the Pilots pulled ahead of the Buffs.
“[In] the first half [I] was really disappointed with our defensive intensity and effort,” said Boyle. “[The Pilots] shot 48 percent in our building … I got after [the guys] pretty good at halftime and they responded in the second half.”
About three minutes into the final half, two free throws by sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey had CU up by seven, 45-38. One minute and 15 seconds later, Portland pulled to within three points and until around the 12-minute mark, the game stayed a close affair, with Colorado’s lead never going above five points.
With 11:46 to play and with CU up 56-52, the Buffs went on an 11-0 run, establishing a lead of comfortable proportions in the process that they never relinquished. Bey scored six of those points during that span while senior guard Namon Wright produced another four.
Four straight free throws — two from freshman forward Evan Battey and two from junior guard Shane Gatling — gave Colorado a 71-55 lead with 6:55 to play.
“Coach [Boyle] told me in practice to trust my teammates,” Wright IV said. “I kind of thought about it and sat down and realized the players I have around me.”
If the Pilots were hoping for any sort of reprieve in the final seven minutes, they were in for a rude awakening. The Buffs couldn’t stop making baskets as the half progressed; in the final 20 minutes, CU made 18-of-33 shots, good for a 55 percent conversion rate.
In the last five minutes of play, the closest the Pilots would get to the Buffs would be their 20-point deficit, down 79-59 with 4:12 to play as Colorado continued to drill shots.
Complimenting Wright IV and Siewert’s hot performances were three other Buffaloes that scored in the double digits: Battey (10), Gatling (11) and Bey (12).
“We’ve got a lot of weapons on this team,” Boyle said. “Some of the guys that weren’t in double figures tonight are capable of being in double figures.”
The Buffs won the redbounding race, 44-27, and made the Pilots pay in transition, scoring 25 points in fast break situations.
Up next for the Buffaloes (4-1) is a showdown with intrastate rival Colorado State in Boulder. The last two years have seen Colorado suffer debilitating losses to the Rams; Saturday will be another test for Boyle’s Buffs.
“I know our players will be ready to play on Saturday at 1 o’clock,” Boyle said. “I can guarantee that.”
The Rams and Buffaloes tipoff at 1 p.m. MST on Saturday, Dec. 1 at the CU Events Center.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.