BOULDER – If a 10 a.m. tip time can produce as efficient a start as it did Saturday for the Colorado Buffaloes, more early morning games might shoot to the top of coach Tad Boyle’s wish list.
Well, probably not, but there’s no denying Boyle’s team didn’t sleep in. Early on in what was believed to be the earliest tip ever at the Coors Events Center, the Buffs were bright-eyed and dialed in during a 94-70 rout of Jackson State.
“We’re used to it,” CU guard Askia Booker said of the early start. “We practice at 6:30 (a.m.). I don’t know that many other teams do it . . . coach thinks it makes us mentally tough.”
Boyle was particularly happy with his team’s togetherness and the way the ball was shared. In a tight win against Wyoming three nights earlier, CU managed only four assists. On Saturday morning, the Buffs finished with 23 on 28 field goals – a turnaround that left Boyle pleased and puzzled.
“As a coach, it’s hard to understand how we go from four to 23 assists,” he said. “But the tone was set by Spencer (Dinwiddie) and ‘Ski’ . . . six-of-10 (shooting) with six assists is the line we want from ‘Ski;’ he was his old self.”
It was Booker’s most complete game of the young season, but he disputed the notion that his switch finally was flipped on: “My switch is never off. I got going a little bit and I thank coach Boyle for that. He tells me to be aggressive 24/7, to take shots when I’m open. He wants me to take good shots and I think I did that today. Other than that, my switch is always on.”
Boyle called the win “a great team victory and I think our team took a step forward . . . it’s one game but it’s a positive thing to build on. I’m proud of them for playing together.”
That sharing, said Boyle, makes positive reinforcement so much easier: “It was more of a feel-good victory . . . you want them reinforced with positive things. When we share the ball like we did, with seven guys in double figures, that’s fun. It’s better to reinforce in a positive way . . . you can catch more flies with honey.”
Dinwiddie and Booker – CU’s starting backcourt – combined for 26 points and had 12 of their team’s 23 assists. Booker's six assists were a career high, as were Dinwiddie's six steals. Seven Buffs – the most in the Boyle era – reached double figures, topped by Booker’s 15. Xavier Talton and freshman Dustin Thomas scored 13 each, Jaron Hopkins added 12, Dinwiddie and Josh Scott 11 each, and Wesley Gordon had 10.
It was the first time CU had at least six players in double figures since Dec. 19, 2010 against Longwood. The school record is eight, set in 1973 against Iowa State.
Jackson State coach Wayne Brent left “brunch with the Buffs” impressed. “They have the most talented team we’ve have played from every spot,” he said. “You have two guards that have a chance to play in the NBA, you have a post guy who is really good. They have guys that are 6-5, 6-6; they are long and athletic looking . . . just a very talented team.”
Boyle used every player – 14 in all – who suited up. Sophomore forward Xavier Johnson watched from the bench in street clothes, held out after being “dinged,” said Boyle, in Friday’s practice.
Starting in Johnson’s place was Jaron Hopkins, and the 6-5 freshman opened the morning’s scoring with a three-pointer from the left wing. Before the half was done, Hopkins had hit four of his five field goal attempts, gathered two rebounds and made two assists. One of his field goals was a soaring dunk off an alley-oop pass from Spencer Dinwiddie.
If the crowd needed a wakeup call, Hopkins’ slam provided it.
“It was a really good feeling for me getting the crowd involved and just playing to win,” said Hopkins, who wasn’t told he would start until about 8 minutes before tip. “I played as hard as I could; I left it all out on the floor.”
The Buffs led by as many as 13 (46-33) in the first half’s final minute and went to the locker room with a 46-35 advantage. Their first-half offensive execution was its best through four games; they shot 64 percent from the field (16-for-25) and had 14 assists on those 16 baskets.
They finished the morning at 62.2 percent from the field (28-of-45), hit a season-best nine of 17 three-point attempts and outscored the visitors in the paint 36-18. Defensively, CU held Jackson State (1-3) to 39.1 percent shooting (25-of-64).
Talton hit three of four trey attempts and “was great,” Boyle said. “He gave us steady minutes off the bench . . . Sabatino (Chen) did that last year for us and ‘XT’ can have that effect.”
While CU’s nine threes were a season high, Jackson State provided proof that the Buffs’ three-point defense still needs work – at least in the first-half as they continue to adjust to the new hand-checking rule. UT-Martin shot 41 percent from behind the arc, and Wyoming half of its 10 first-half treys before CU clamped down in the second half, allowing the Cowboys only two of 11.
Jackson State, though, scorched CU for six first-half treys on 12 attempts. Freshman guard Javares Brent canned four of seven tries, finishing with 14 first-half points. Playing at altitude might suit him: He scored a then season-high 17 points on Thursday night in the Tigers’ two-point (84-82) at Air Force before hitting a game-best 20 points Saturday morning.
“Sometimes he was wide open,” Booker said, “but one time before half I was basically shaking hands with him. He’s a good player. Coach says if we play great defense for 40 minutes they’re not going to make those kinds of shots.”
But as the Buffs did against the Cowboys, they tightened down the perimeter after halftime. Jackson State got seven second-half trey attempts and hit just one.
CU opened the second half with a 5-0 run (a trey by Booker, two free throws by Dinwiddie) and took its largest lead of the morning to that point – 16 points at 51-35 – less than a minute into the last 20.
Before the final buzzer, the Tigers, projected as fifth-place finishers in the SWAC, never got closer than 11 points. A pair of free throws by CEC favorite Ben Mills pushed the Buffs up by 25 points (91-66) with 1:50 left and many in the crowd might have started thinking football. (CU hosted Cal at 3:30 p.m. at Folsom Field.)
The Buffs return to the CEC Monday night (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network) to play Arkansas State, which won 65-61 last week at Jackson State.