On Saturday afternoon, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team beat Colorado State, 86-80, in a nail-biting installment of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
Heading into the game at the CU Events Center, the Buffs had lost the last two matchups against the Rams and were looking for a win.
Colorado won the opening tipoff and the Rams came out in a strong man-to-man defense. After passing the ball around the court, junior forward Lucas Siewert drained a three as the shot clock buzzer went off.
From there it was the Buffs’ turn to get into man-to-man defense.
Given Colorado’s strong man defense around the perimeter, CSU could not pass the ball down low and had to look for a jumper. But before any magic could happen, the Rams had a shot clock violation.
Colorado got the ball back and Siewert was able to lay it up for an easy basket to make the score 5-0 early on.
CSU was dominant from long range early on as the Rams hit 45 percent of their threes in the first half. Redshirt junior forward and center Nico Carvacho, who is almost seven feet tall, was a constant spark for Colorado State.
With Carvacho’s height, he was able to lay up some easy baskets without much of a challenge, contributing 15 points to the Rams’ effort.
Carvacho presented a challenge for the Buffs, especially down low — any shot challenge from the Buffs would result in a Buffs foul or he would make the shot. Siewert and sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV tried multiple times to double team Carvacho but he often got fouled and was a frequent presence at the foul line.
The Buffs and Rams battled by trading three-pointers and easy baskets. Redshirt junior guard Kris Martin began to heat up for CSU as the Rams would pull away after a three to make it 13-6 with just over 13 minutes left before halftime.
Colorado pressured the Rams to take shots but Martin and redshirt junior guard Anthony Masinton-Bonner were having success from the arc, shooting a combined 7-of-11 in the game.
“They give us their best, we knew what to expect,” Wright IV said.
Head coach Tad Boyle put big man freshman forward Evan Battey in to give the Buffs more chances down low.
“Not having Dallas [Walton] hurts, but we have really good bigs that we have to keep fresh and stay out of foul trouble,” Boyle said.
But the Rams continued to pull away, forcing the Buffs to work hard to close the gap.
With Carvacho on the bench for a few minutes, CU had an easier time working in the paint. Junior guard Shane Gatling took advantage with a three-point shot. The Rams would answer when Martin bodied Battey, creating separation to make a three-point shot and make it 21-15 at the 8:52 mark.
From there, Colorado started closing in on the CSU lead. Wright had a steal down the stretch after multiple pick and rolls, passed the ball to Siewert, who drained a three, and CU pulled to within three, although the Buffs still trailed 21-18.
With momentum, the Buffs recorded a couple more steals to take the lead after a Wright IV layup to make the score 22-21. Moments later, Masinton-Bonner drove the ball again for a layup but was met by Battey, who drew another charge.
It became a back and forth battle, but the Rams were able to come back and lead the Buffs by four at the half.
“Our players wanted to win so bad,” Boyle said. “They thought we could blow them out in one possession.”
In the final seven minutes of the first half, the game was routinely a close affair. The largest lead either team enjoyed was a 32-27 advantage that CSU held with just under a minute left before halftime.
The offense came out strong at halftime, with the Buffs trailing 32-29.
The Buffs hit jumper after jumper, as did the Rams to keep the score close. As the second half progressed, the Buffaloes steadily got back into the game and took the lead, beginning at the 17:23 mark on a layup from sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey.
Colorado led 42-41 with 14:23 to go, at which point Colorado State took the lead in the game just once more, a 75-74 advantage with under three minutes left in the game.
The Rams went down far from quietly in the second half, staying constantly on CU’s heels.
The Buffs inbounded the ball and Battey hit a layup, drawing a foul in the process. After his converted free throw, Colorado led 77-75 with 2:09 left.
The Rams moved the ball down the court but lost the ball after attempting a jumper.
Siewert grabbed the rebound and launched it to Gatling, who was side open for a dunk to widen the lead to 79-75.
The Rams still went to the free throw line and kept the game within reach. Martin was hot for CSU, taking every open shot when the ball was in his hand.
Bey got three defensive rebounds late in the game and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line for CU in the critical final 23 seconds of the game.
“Making free throws is huge down the stretch,” he said after the win.
The final score of the game was 86-80.
Other than the game being a successful win against their in-state rival, this was the first time since 2003 where three CU players had double-doubles. 15 years ago it was David Harrison (15 points, 11 rebounds), Stephen Pelle (18 points, 18 rebounds), and Michel Morandais (17 points, 10 assists).
On Saturday, it was Bey with a career-high 23 points plus 10 rebounds. Wright IV added 18 points and 11 assists, and Siewert contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds.
While the Buffs are celebrating a win, they are still growing.
“Mental toughness [and] being able to handle that adversity in … in a rivalry game. It’s a sign of maturity and toughness,” Boyle said.
The Buffs improve their series against the Rams to 90-38 all-time and move to 5-1 in 2018.
Colorado’s next game is against South Dakota on Tuesday night at the CU Events Center. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Zoe Collins Rath at firstname.lastname@example.org.