BOULDER, Colo. Big plays on both ends of the floor made the difference for Colorado down the stretch Saturday, as the Buffs fought back to collect an 86-80 win over rival Colorado State at the CU Events Center.
Colorado improved to 5-1 while CSU fell to 4-4 as CU ended a two-game losing streak to the Rams.
In a see-saw game that featured 12 lead changes and four ties, the Buffs found themselves down by one when a 10-0 CSU run gave Colorado State a 75-74 lead with 2:26 to play.
But the Buffs answered with a 3-point play from Evan Battey seconds later to regain the lead, then produced a decisive sequence to put the game away in the final two minutes. It included drawing an offensive foul on the defensive end, a breakaway slam dunk from Shane Gatling for a four-point lead after Lucas Siewert rebound, a huge block from Tyler Bey on the defensive end, and six consecutive free throws from Bey in the final 23 seconds.
"At the end of games, especially games like tonight, players make plays," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I can call the plays, CSU can call their plays, but the players who make the plays is the team that wins the game."
The Buffs had their fair share of players doing just that.
Bey was one of three Buffs with a double-double, scoring 21 of his career-high 23 points in the second half as well as grabbing seven of his 10 rebounds after intermission. McKinley Wright IV recorded an 18-point, 11-assist double-double and Siewert had a 16-point, 10-rebound effort for Colorado. Gatling finished with 13 points to give the Buffs four players in double-digit scoring while Battey added seven points, five rebounds and a pair of big second-half assists.
The Rams also had four players in double figures, led by Kris Martin with 21 points and J.D. Paige with 17.
The Buffs won despite Colorado State shooting 51.7 percent from the field (30-for-58). CU overcame a cold-shooting first half to shoot 61 percent in the second half (21-for-34), including a stretch in which the Buffs hit 12 field goal tries in a row.
The Buffs also had a 40-29 edge on the boards.
HOW IT HAPPENED: After trailing for much of the first half and early in the second, Colorado finally regained the lead with a stretch that saw the Buffs hit 12 consecutive field goal tries. CU put together a 10-2 run that turned a 41-40 deficit into a 50-43 lead, with Wright starting the run with a 12-foot jumper before Siewert and Bey each added four points.
Colorado State came back several times to narrow CU's cushion, but each time Colorado answered. The Buffs finally built their lead to 10 points, 67-57, with 7:16 to go on a Gatling 3-pointer and Bey slam dunk.
But the Rams had one more rally in their pocket. A J.D. Paige drive three-point play cut Colorado's lead to two, 74-72, with three minutes to play before a 3-pointer from Anthony Mastinton-Bonner capped a 10-0 run to give the Rams a 75-74 lead with 2:23 remaining.
That set the stage for the final two minutes, with Battey's drive to the hoop past CSU big man Niko Carvacho and ensuing free throw giving the Buffs the lead for good.
"To be in the game, to make a play in that type of situation with the game on the line was really big for me," said Battey, whose emotional reaction after the bucket brought the CU bench to its feet. "I really wanted to be in that situation at some point and I'm glad I could make the play."
Boyle was obviously pleased with the way his team reacted in the final minutes. Over the last several years, Colorado has let a handful of such games slip away in the final minutes.
"Mental toughness, being able to handle that adversity i the game down the stretch," Boyle said. "In a rivalry game with a big crowd, it's a sign of progress with maturity and toughness. Those are the two words that come to mind."
The Buffs struggled from the floor for the entire first half while the Rams had no such issues. Colorado shot just 33 percent, hitting 12 of its 36 field goal tries — including 3-for-14 from 3-point range — while the Rams hit 50 percent of their shots, going 13-for-26 and 5-for-11 from beyond the arc.
As a result, the Buffs trailed for most of the half and entered the locker room down by three, 32-29, at intermission.
THANKING THE STUDENTS: Saturday's crowd of 7,887 was the biggest of the year thus far at the Events Center, and was bolstered by a solid student section turnout. After the game, Boyle took the public address system microphone and thanked the students for their attendance — then implored them to return on a regular basis.
"This is a fun team to watch, a fun team to coach and this is going to be a fun team to watch grow throughout the season," Boyle said at his post-game press conference. "I want our students to understand they make a big difference — they make a huge difference. It doesn't matter if we're playing Colorado State or South Dakota or Arizona, I want our fans to show up and cheer on the Buffs. They make a difference in wins and losses."
And, Boyle added, "I want our students to understand it is not a spectator sport, it is a participant sport. They participate in our wins and they were a big reason we won today."
TURNING POINT: Battey's 3-point play with 2:10 to go gave the Buffs a lead they never gave up over the last two minutes.
WHAT IT MEANS: The value of collecting a tough win down the stretch can't be overstated, particularly for a young team. The game should no doubt be a confidence builder, and will be a valuable experience on which the Buffs can draw in the future.
GATLING GROWING: CU junior Shane Gatling, a junior college transfer, is slowly but surely adapting to the Division I level. Gatling had his second-straight game in double figures with a season-high 13 points, which included a pair of 3-pointers in a key CU run in the second half, as well as a breakaway slam dunk with 40 seconds to go.
"He's still adjusting to this level," Boyle said. "He's going through a growth and maturation process. The growth that he's showing, we've got to continue."
Gatling said he is continuing to feel more comfortable.
"I think I'm feeling more confident," he said. "My teammates keep finding me and they kept telling me to shoot the ball because they know I'm a good shooter."
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs shot 61.8 percent from the field in the second half (21-for-34) and had a 40-29 lead on the boards.
NOTEWORTHY: Saturday was the first time since 2003 that the Buffs had three players record a double-double in the same game. That came when Michel Morandais (17 points, 10 assists), David Harrison (15 points, 11 rebounds) and Stephane Pelle (18 points, 18 rebounds) accomplished the feat in an 89-68 win over Missouri. … It was Siewert's second straight double-double. … Colorado prevailed despite allowing Colorado State to shoot 51.7 percent. The win snapped a nine-game skid the Buffaloes had when allowing their opponent 50 percent shooting or better. … Tyler Bey and Wright combined for 33 points on 11 of 13 shooting in the second half. … Colorado's nine turnovers were a season low
QUOTEWORTHY: "Our guys fought and we battled. We had some great individual performances, but at the end of the day this is a great team victory for the Buffs." — Colorado head coach Tad Boyle.
"It was big for us. In the long run, this game made us better. We executed down the stretch and we guarded them really well. Overall, this game helped us a lot." — CU point guard McKinley Wright
NEXT UP: The Buffs play host to South Dakota in a 7 p.m. game Tuesday at the Events Center.