BOULDER — Three nights after a runaway win in the season opener, Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes found themselves in a nail-biter Friday night against visiting Omaha.
But with their backs to the wall, the Buffs came up with big plays down the stretch to wrap up a 79-75 win at the CU Events Center to improve to 2-0 while Omaha fell to 1-3.
"They found a way to win, they found a way to buck up and gets stops when they needed to get stops," Boyle said. "We were tested, our backs were against the wall. We didn't fold up our tent. … We did what we had to do when we had to do it."
No Colorado play was bigger than Tyler Bey's steal, layup and free throw with 29.9 seconds remaining that gave CU a 77-72 lead. Omaha answered with a Zach Jackson 3-pointer to close the gap to two with 17 seconds to go, but Colorado held on down the stretch, with McKinley Wright IV clinching the victory with two free throws with 7.4 second on the clock.
"Players make plays," Boyle said. "At the end of the day, in close games, players have to make plays to win a game."
CU finished with five players in double-figure scoring, led by Bey and Lucas Siewert with 16 apiece. D'Shawn Schwartz added a career-high 15 points to go with a career-best seven rebounds, McKinley Wright added 13 points and Namon Wright chipped in 11.
The Buffs hurt themselves with 16 turnovers, which Omaha converted into 19 points. But the Buffs had a 36-27 edge on the boards and hit 19 of 23 free throw attempts while Omaha was 8-for-12 from the line.
HOW IT HAPPENED: After taking a 33-29 lead at intermission, Colorado threatened to take control with a 5-0 burst to open the second half. But the Mavericks responded with a 20-10 run to take a 59-58 lead, setting the stage for a see-saw final seven minutes in a game that featured 17 lead changes and 24 ties.
Colorado finally took the lead for good with 2:25 remaining when Siewert followed a Deleon Brown miss to give CU a 72-70 lead. But the Mavericks, who shot 53 percent from the field in the second half — including 6-for-10 from 3-point range — kept it close right down to the end.
"They came in and brought it to us," McKinley Wright said. "They gave us their best effort. We weren't great from the start but we found a way to dig it out. A win is a win. We'll take it."
Wright, playing against long-time friend and high school teammate JT Gibson, was not at his best. He had an uncharacteristic five turnovers — the Buffs finished with 16 — and was just 3-for-7 from the field.
"I don't know what it was," Wright said of his sub-par night. "I wasn't myself. Five turnovers is not who I am. I can't do that. … It won't happen again"
But even on an "off" night, Wright still had some game-deciding moments. He hit a huge bucket with 1:51 to go that gave the Buffs a 74-70 lead, then added his two clinching free throws in the final seconds.
"Tonight was not McKinley's night," Boyle said. "But this team has to figure out how to win a game when McKinley Wright is not at his best."
The Buffs did just that, but it wasn't easy. Siewert, who had 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting in CU's 100-71 win over Drake, was 6-for-10 from the floor against the Mavericks, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range for his 16 points. Along with his putback that gave Colorado the lead for good in the final minutes, the CU junior had back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half that helped end an 8-0 Mavericks run.
"We talked in our film session after Drake that Lucas needs to get more than four shots," Boyle said. "I'd like to get him 12 to 15 (shots) with the way he shoots it and the confidence he is playing with."
The Buffs also got a big boost from sophomore D'Shawn Schwartz, who was making his season debut after sitting the opener out because of an NCAA issue. Schwartz shot 6-for-10 from the field (2-for-4 from 3-point range) for his career-high 15 points.
"That's the D'Shawn we've seen in practice," Boyle said. "We've got the ingredients of a good team, but we're going to need D'Shawn Schwartz to be that guy that he was tonight."
Bey, meanwhile, had seven rebounds to go with his 15 points, and is now averaging 12.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game after two games.
The Buffs seemed out of synch for much of the first half, particularly on the offensive end. Colorado had four turnovers in the first five minutes, which the Mavericks gladly converted into eight points en route to building an 11-6 lead.
CU finally found some offensive rhythm and put together a 7-0 run to take the lead, capped by a Siewert 3-pointer, only to hit another lull and allow the Mavs to momentarily regain a 22-21 edge with 7:42 to go in the half.
But two minutes later, the Buffs finally took the lead again when a Namon Wright basket gave CU a 26-24 lead. Bey added two baskets in the final two minutes — one fueled by a Brown steal and another off a nice pass down the lane from McKinley Wright — to give the Buffs a 33-29 edge at the half.
TURNING POINT: Not until Bey's steal, basket and free throw with just under 30 seconds to play did the Buffs have any breathing room in this one.
WHAT IT MEANS: With a 2-0 start under their belts, the Buffs now take the show on the road to see if they can translate that home success to a good performance in a hostile environment.
NAMON OFF THE BENCH: Senior Namon Wright once again delivered a solid effort off the bench. After his 25-point, eight-rebound performance against Drake, he had 11 points, three rebounds and three assists against the Mavericks.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs had a 36-27 edge on the boards and a narrow 28-26 edge in points in the paint. The biggest difference came at the free throw line, where Colorado hit 19 of its 23 attempts and the Mavericks were 8-for-12.
NEXT UP: The Buffs hit the road for a pair of games next week, beginning with an 8 p.m. game Tuesday at San Diego, followed by a 4 p.m. game Saturday at Air Force.