The Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team, riding a two-game winning streak, arrived at the Galen Center on campus at the University of Southern California on Saturday to do battle with the Trojans in hopes of moving up in the Pac-12 Conference standings.
The Buffs (14-9, 5-6 Pac-12) did just that, taking down USC, 69-65, in a game that was decided in the final minute of the second half.
With Wednesday evening’s 84-73 victory at UCLA, Colorado will head back to Boulder having swept a Pac-12 road series for just the second time under head coach Tad Boyle.
“I don’t think anyone understand how good this feels,” said sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV. “…[In] that last minute we got some stops, big-time rebounds and [sophomore guard] D’Shawn [Schwartz] made some big-time free throws for us. It’s just huge for us.”
Throughout the game, the Buffs had trouble with Southern California’s big man Bennie Boatwright, who led all scorers with 24 points. The 6-foot-10 forward took the most shots out of any player on the court and was a challenge for Colorado in all areas of the contest.
“Boatwright is a terrific player,” Boyle said. “He obviously played a terrific game [and] is a really tough matchup…[but] we really had some guys step up.”
Despite Boatwright’s efforts, Colorado was able to come away with the win. After junior forward Lucas Siewert fouled out with 2:53 left to play, the Buffs buckled down and did not have another foul in the game.
In the final five minutes of play, Colorado found itself in a precarious situation, as sophomore forward Tyler Bey registered his fourth foul with 4:51 left in the game and freshman forward Evan Battey did the same at the 3:51 mark.
But Wright IV and Schwartz stepped up and took charge of the game around the same time. From the 4:02 mark of the second half, they accounted for all of Colorado’s points until the final buzzer rang.
Schwartz contributed seven points during that stretch while Wright IV added two fast break layups that turned out to be huge.
“I just tried to take advantage of [USC’s] miscommunications,” Wright IV. “I overheard them talking to each other that they didn’t know how to guard…me getting downhill.”
Wright IV led the Buffs with 20 points, making 9-of-14 shots from the floor while Schwartz added 14.
Perhaps the most consistent player on the court Saturday for Colorado was Battey, whose battles with Southern Cal’s 6-foot-11 forward Nick Rakocevic were constant throughout the game.
Battey made 71 percent of his shots on the night, contributing 14 points to the Buffaloes’ cause.
For much of the game, it seemed as if neither team was capable of doing enough to manufacture some momentum or create a clear advantage. Colorado and the Trojans had conversion rate percentages of under 40 percent for a good chunk of the contest, and throughout the game, the biggest lead either side took was five points.
Boatwright made his presence known early in the game. He hit a three-pointer with 17:18 left in the first half that put USC up 8-3.
About four minutes later, a layup by junior guard Shane Gatling gave the Buffs their first lead of the game, 11-10. While Gatling didn’t replicate the career-high performance he had Wednesday night at UCLA, he hit two straight baskets later in the second half that gave CU a 44-39 advantage, ending the night with seven points.
From the 13:44 mark until halftime, the Buffs and Trojans played basket tag, with Colorado retaking the lead (never more than three points) and USC staying close behind. After 20 minutes of play, the score was tied at 29.
At the point in the game, CU had made 36 percent of its shots while USC converted 37.
The second half began as a neck and neck affair until two free throws by Battey gave Colorado a 39-35 lead, its first such advantage of more than a single basket. But a turnover by Schwartz prevented the Buffs from dealing more damage and USC tied the game at 39 shortly thereafter.
Gatling’s back-to-back buckets gave Colorado a 44-39 lead, but in similar fashion, a foul and turnover by sophomore forward Alexander Strating led to a Boatwright three, tying things at 44 with 12:30 to go.
The game stayed close over the ensuing next few minutes, but yet again, with CU up 52-49, a turnover by Bey was immediately cashed in for points by the Trojans, who again tied the game on a three-pointer courtesy of Shaqquan Aaron.
On the night, Southern Cal scored 15 points off of Colorado’s 12 turnovers while the Buffs added just two measly points off of USC’s six.
“The [turnovers] that are silly and that we can get rid off, we [have] to get rid of,” Boyle said after the game. “Lucas [Siewert] had four turnovers, but one was [the result of] an illegal screen and two were traveling calls. We can correct that. We’ve got to slow down a bit and get rid of silly turnovers.”
It was anybody’s game until the final minutes, when Colorado played arguably its most concise and effective basketball of the contest. Boatwright stat line during that time consisted only of a foul and two missed three-pointers, as the Buffs locked things down and walked away with a hard-fought victory.
“[This win] sends a statement around the rest of the Pac-12 that we can hold our own and beat some teams,” Schwartz said. “It’s monumental…we’re definitely improving every day. I feel like we’re growing as a team and as guys.”
The Buffaloes will face Arizona State at home on Wednesday, Feb. 13 for their next contest. Colorado and the Sun Devils tipoff at 8:30 p.m. MST from the CU Events Center.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.