With the Colorado Buffaloes bowing out of the Pac-12 Tournament in the semifinals round, the team lost its chance for an automatic bid for one of the 68 slots in the NCAA March Madness. The Buffs have to settle for the NCAA’s next best postseason option: the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), college basketball’s consolation bracket for its next best 32 teams.
The pool will be whittled down to 16 teams on Wednesday and the Buffaloes will be one of them. CU welcomed the Dayton Flyers to town on Tuesday night in the NIT opening round, and promptly sent them flying back to Ohio after a 78-73 back-and-forth win.
Despite an attendance of just 3,091 CU faithful at the CU Events Center — no thanks to a 9 p.m. MST tip-off time on a school night — the Buffs put on quite a show for those that were there.
“That was a high-level basketball game. The people that came tonight and saw that in person were left saying ‘we saw a good college basketball team,’” said head coach Tad Boyle. “…I told our guys bad teams aren’t playing anymore. The only ones left in whatever tournament you’re talking about are good basketball teams. Dayton is probably the most efficient offensive team we’ve played against all season long.”
Colorado secured the opening tip-off and went to work right away, with sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey hitting his first two shots to put the Buffaloes up 4-2 in the game’s opening couple of minutes. It was the largest lead the Buffs would have until the closing minutes of the first half. Bey would finish the half already with a double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds).
A three-pointer by Dayton’s Obadiah Toppin, the NCAA’s fifth-best shooter (66.2 percent from the floor), gave the Flyers a 5-4 lead. Toppin came as advertised throughout the game. He was crushing Colorado from the floor by the 12 minute mark of the first half, hitting all six of his first shots in the game, including two from beyond the three-point line.
He already had 14 points in the contest when the score read 20-13 in favor of the Flyers with 12:06 to go in the half.
Toppin would cool down some, however, missing his next four shots in a row and allowing the Buffs a chance to play some catch up.
A big block by freshman guard Daylen Kountz gave the Buffs a much-need boost of energy. The play by Kountz sparked a 5-0 run by Colorado that would pull the Buffaloes within three points of Dayton.
Led by sophomore guard/forward D’Shawn Schwartz, who finished the game with a career-high five three-pointers, hit his first of five to cut Dayton’s lead to five at the 9:13 mark of the first. A quick steal and lay-up by sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV further cut the Flyers’ lead down to 23-20.
“I’m just staying in the gym, trying to stay confident in myself,” said Schwartz of his shooting performance. “I knew the jumper would come back at some point. I’ve already proven I could do it from last year.”
The lay-up by Wright IV gave Buffs fans quite the scare, as the sophomore landed awkwardly on his foot and limped off to the bench. Wright IV, however, would not remain out of the game for very long, returning to floor looking healthy as ever after missing just over a minute of game action.
Another made three-pointer by the Buffaloes, this time by junior forward Lucas Siewert, pulled CU within two, the closest they’d get before the closing minutes of the half. In total, Colorado was a solid 8-of-21 (38.1 percent) from beyond the arc throughout the game.
While Toppin’s hot hands were cooling down, the Flyers’ Jalen Crutcher’s were heating up. Dayton’s sophomore guard hit a three to extend the Flyers’ lead to 30-23 with a little over five minutes to go in the half.
Crutcher finished the game with 14 points, nine of which came in the game’s first half.
After seeing themselves down by seven, the Buffs controlled the rest of the half, going on a 10-0 run to take a 33-30 lead, led by sophomore forward Alexander Strating, who hit six of those points himself coming off the bench.
Despite the Buffs taking a slight 37-35 lead into halftime, the storyline of the first half was the deadly Dayton offense. The Flyers boast the third-best field-goal shooting percentage in the entire NCAA, hitting 50.3 percent of their shots. In the first half, Dayton was shooting 60 percent from the floor, compared to the Buffs’ 41 percent.
“Outside of UCLA, [Dayton] is probably the best team in transition that we’ve played,” Wright IV said. “They get the ball out fast, they look up and their bigs do a great job of running their wings and they’ve got a good point guard over there who can see the floor very well. Outside of UCLA, I don’t think there’s another team that runs like that that we’ve played.”
Crutcher opened the second half by swishing a three-pointer off the tip-off to take back Dayton’s lead. But the two teams would trade baskets in the ensuing minutes in a heated back-and-forth tilt until an 8-0 run by the Flyers would regain their seven-point lead with 14:38 to go in the game, forcing Boyle to take a timeout to halt the Flyers’ momentum.
The timeout seemed to work wonders for the Buffaloes. An alley-oop from Wright IV to Bey put the Buffs back in the game and got the crowd back on its feet. The oop was part of an 8-0 run the Colorado strung together to retake a 51-50 advantage with 11:35 to go in the contest.
In the midst of this, however, was another scary moment for the Buffs faithful, who watched as Bey collided with a Flyers player under the net after a Schwartz lay-up. Bey lost his shoe and immediately grabbed for his left leg while writhing in pain on the court below the Buffs basket. The sophomore limped to the locker room and was unable to put his shoe back on.
Colorado breathed a sigh of relief when Bey re-emerged from the tunnel just a few minutes later at the 10:17 mark, with only a subtle limp and his team down by just one point, 53-52.
When the clock showed 10 minutes to go in the NIT opening round, the game had already featured 10 ties and 16 lead changes. It truly was a see-saw battle at the CU Events Center and the game would finish that way, too.
But as he tends to do, Wright IV took the game in his own hands, securing the Buffaloes’ next five points on his own, hitting a three and a quick layup in the matter of seconds to give the Buffs a 59-56 advantage with nine to go in the game. Wright IV finished with 19 points in the contest.
“I thought McKinley Wright took over offensively there midway through the second half,” said Boyle. “Big time players do that.”
In the ensuing minutes, yet another Schwartz three-pointer started to open the game up for Colorado, which extended its lead to four points and eight minutes to go on the clock.
But the see-saw battle continued as a lay-up and a three from the Flyers fueled another Dayton lead. It was 63-62 with 6:46 remaining. As it turns out, however, that would be the last lead the Flyers would have, as it was all Colorado to close out the game.
It started with a Kountz slam that put the Buffs back on top with the lead and a got the crowd back on its feet in the closing minutes of the contest.
Another three-pointer by Schwartz extended CU’s lead to 69-65 with four minutes to go. The fifth and final three made by Schwartz at the two-minute mark gave the Buffs their biggest lead in the game with a 74-65 advantage. Wright IV was pleased with his fellow sophomore’s ability to shoot.
“I always tell him he’s got to get up at least five threes in each game,” said Wright IV. “I know how well he shoots the ball. Like [Schwartz] said, last year, this year, summer time, I see him putting the work in. We just want him shooting the ball.”
Dayton would close out the game on an 8-4 run, but time was Dayton’s biggest enemy and final score read 78-73 in favor of the Buffs.
“Our guys now know that the NIT is no joke [and that] you’re playing against some really high-level teams,” Boyle said. “Dayton is a high-level team. Our guys need to understand that. Whoever we play next…I don’t know who it’s going to be, but it’s going to be a high-level team…tonight was a great step in the right direction in terms of their confidence and now we live to see another day.”
The Buffaloes live to see either Alabama or Norfolk State in the round of 16. The date and time of tip-off will be announced in the coming days.
Alabama and Norfolk State tip-off this evening from the Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa at 5 p.m. MST.
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