With about eight minutes left in Thursday’s Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal game at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas between Colorado and Oregon State, the Beavers, who trailed by as much as 21 points in the first half, had taken advantage of a period of stagnation on the part of CU to get within six points of the Buffaloes, who clung for dear life to their 51-45 lead.
Not much went right for the Beavers in the first half, as their 28 percent make rate during that time certainly contributed to their woes and ultimate 37-18 halftime deficit.
But OSU gave the Buffs a reason to be nervous down the stretch in the second half. Over the span of eight minutes and 33 seconds, the Buffaloes managed just eight points, allowing the Beavers, who scored 23 points during the same time to march right back into things.
However, the six-point deficit would be the closest Oregon State would get to the Buffs, as Colorado steadily got back into its groove. With 3:59 left to play, CU led 59-49 and from that point on, led by a double digit margin, en route to defeating the Beavers, 73-58.
“We knew in the second half they were going to make some sort of a run at us, and they did,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “…They turned the pressure up, they started getting into us and heating us up and got on our heels, and we finally started attacking, which is what you have to do, so [it’s a] great team victory.”
In Wednesday’s first-round victory over Cal, the Buffs were far from stellar, committing a season-high 23 turnovers in somewhat of a hollow victory.
But in the span of 24 hours, Colorado did a complete 180 and came out of the gate firing on all cylinders versus Oregon State.
Five Buffaloes scored in double digits for CU in the win, as Colorado advances to the Pac-12 Conference Tournament semifinals for the first time in five seasons.
“I think [in] the first game of the tournament there’s some jitters — I don’t care what anybody says,” Boyle said after the win. “…But there’s an advantage for the teams that play that first night that a lot of people don’t recognize or realize. And it was an advantage for us, I think, [getting] our jitters out yesterday. And today our guys were ready to play.”
It took roughly two and a half minutes for the first basket of the game to be scored, but freshman forward Evan Battey drew first blood for the Buffs with a quick layup and by the 14:54 mark of the first half, CU led, 9-2.
Five of those points came from junior guard Shane Gatling, who was electric in the opening minutes. Colorado kept the pressure on Oregon State in the ensuing minutes, and another layup from Battey made the score 15-6 in favor of the Buffs with a bit over 12 minutes to go before halftime.
Gatling was second on the Buffs with 15 points while Battey contributed 10 and nine rebounds. The Buffs dominated on the boards once again in Thursday’s game, snagging 39 rebounds to OSU’s 28.
Oregon State failed to make a basket for five minutes and 35 seconds as the midway point of the first half neared and the Buffaloes took advantage of their plight. By the time OSU scored its ninth and 10th points of the game with 5:35 before halftime, Colorado had ran away to a 31-10 lead.
The Buffs outscored the Bears 7-6 for the remainder of the half and took a 19-point lead into the final 20 minutes of play.
Colorado kept up the pace as the final half began, but slowly but surely the Beavers began to awaken from the floor. Back to back three-pointers with 14 minutes left in the game by Tres Tinkle, who led OSU and all scorers with 23 points, and Ethan Thompson made the game interesting again, although CU still led, 43-32.
With 11:10 left, Colorado led by 15, but within three minutes, the Buffs’ lead had dwindled to six, as the Beavers appeared to be within range of stealing the game away from CU.
The Buffaloes and Beavers matched basket for basket and free throw for free throw over the next few minutes. A few made baskets from the charity stripe by sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey put the Buffs up 53-45.
Bey struggled mightily against Cal on Wednesday and on versus OSU, got into foul trouble early, forcing Boyle to sit him for close to 15 minutes of the first half. Although Bey appeared frustrated at times in the game and still wasn’t exactly himself, he contributed eight points to the Buffs’ cause and performed better as the game progressed.
With 5:16 to go, a major turning point in the game took place when sophomore forward Alexander Strating made a layup, initiating a pivotal momentum shift.
Strating took the ball near the top of the arc in the offensive zone with his back to the net, considered his options and drove hard to the basket, making the basket and sparking an 8-1 scoring run by the Buffs.
“It was huge for us,” said sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV of Strating’s big bucket. “He turned…made a big play and finished. He was huge for us tonight.”
Wright IV led the Buffaloes with 17 points and four assists. He shot a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line in the win, as well.
By the 2:58 mark, the Buffaloes were back in control of things and led, 61-50. From that point until the end Oregon State wouldn’t get close enough to cause concern, as CU’s lead until the final buzzer sounded was never less than 11.
Strating set personal bests with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting as well as 16 minutes on the court. His effort was crucial in the Buffs’ win.
As the game clock got to the final seconds, sophomore guard/forward D’Shawn Schwartz took the last shot of the game for Colorado, drilling a three-pointer with six seconds to go. He ended the game with 11 points.
“I think our whole team played well tonight even though Oregon State went on a little run,” Gatling said. “We played through adversity. Basketball is a game of runs.”
Colorado will take on No. 1 seed Washington Friday evening in the semifinals game. The Huskies bested Colorado in both regular season meetings and the last time the two teams played, in Seattle on Feb. 23, CU committed a then-season-high 19 turnovers, falling to UW, 64-55.
“Washington obviously is champion of the league over an 18-game schedule, and they’re very, very good,” Boyle said. “They’ve got a lot of good players, but the teams that have had success against Washington are the teams that have really guarded them well. And we’re going to have to do that again tomorrow.”
The Buffaloes will get a chance at revenge versus the Huskies at 7 p.m. MST.
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