With an enthusiastic crowd behind them, the Colorado Buffaloes defeated the University of Illinois at Chicago wire-to-wire in the CU Events Center on Saturday afternoon.
Thanks to sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey’s double-double and sophomore guard McKinley Wright’s near double-double, Colorado was able to finish their four-game home stand undefeated.
Wright knocked down a three pointer on the Buffs’ first possession, which set the tone for his great performance. He finished with 21 points, six rebounds, nine assists and a perfect 8-8 night at the free throw line.
“I want to try and be at least 90 percent from the free throw line. I think when I get fouled, I’m going to make the free throws,” said Wright in the post-game press conference. “We’re confident at the free throw line, so being able to get to the rim and get fouled is a huge advantage for us.”
Wright’s nine assists moved him up to 22nd on Colorado’s all-time assist list with 226. He passed former guard Dominique Collier.
Fouls were a big story in the first half — with UIC committing 13 personal fouls — and allowed the Buffaloes to shoot 14 free throws.
Colorado lead by as much as nine in the first half, but UIC was able to stay alive due to a strong inside scoring performance. The Flames made seven layups and shot 59.1 percent from the field in the period.
UIC was led by the scoring duo of junior guard, Marcus Ottey and junior forward, Jordan Blount, who finished with 22 and 20 points respectively. They combined for 21 of the Flames’ 29 first-half points and helped keep UIC in striking range with a halftime deficit of 34-29.
The start of the second quarter was headlined by Bey’s dominant performance on the glass. After tallying nine in the first half, Bey continued by grabbing two more in the first 18 minutes.
“I honestly just come into the game and do whatever I have to do to win,” Bey said after the game. “I’m trying to be consistent every game, and that’s one thing me and coach talked about before the start of the season.”
Bey picked up his second double-double of the season with 15 points and a career high 15 rebounds — the most by any Buff since 2017.
Colorado started the final period hot with a 12-6 scoring run to give them an 11-point lead at the 16:50 mark. However, while CU scored at will, they struggled on defense for most of the half and failed to put UIC away, to the dismay of head coach, Tad Boyle.
“What our players have to do is have more individual pride defensively when they are guarding the ball,” Boyle responded when asked about his team’s struggles defensively. “When you play against good teams and good players who can shoot the three and drive it, you have some challenges. We have to take those challenges on personally a little bit better than we are. Sometimes we are relying on our help rather than relying on going mono a mono. We work on it in practice, but we need to continue to work on it.”
Both teams traded baskets for the majority of the half, and, aided by Flames junior guard Godwin Boahen’s two second-half three’s, UIC was able to get within four points of the lead with 3:17 remaining in the game. Momentum had started to shift toward the Flames.
With the game on the line, CU once again relied on Wright to close out the game for them. In the final three minutes, Wright scored the Buff’s last 10 points. In addition to scoring, Wright had three boards, a steal and drew a key charging foul.
“He just makes winning plays down the stretch, whether it is offensively or defensively,” said Boyle about his young guard. “He made a big time shot in the lane and came down and took a charge which was a big momentum shift for our team. He is terrific. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Wright’s run was the final push CU needed to finish off the Flames. The Buffs led by as much as 12 late and earned their seventh win of the season with a final score of 84-72.
Colorado’s next game is on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. MST in New Mexico against the Lobos.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Griffin Rucker at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GriffinRucker.