COLORADO SPRINGS — After more than a year of waiting, Josh Scott finally returned home on Saturday. An afternoon that began with a rousing ovation from the Clune Arena faithful culminated with one of the finest performances of his young career.
The 6-10 sophomore from nearby Monument had 16 points and a season-high 13 rebounds as the Buffs led the Air Force Falcons from wire-to-wire en route to a convincing 81-57 victory. Scott reached his third double-double of the year half way through the second half and then sat for the game’s final five minutes while the Buffs coasted to their seventh straight victory.
“It feels good, it’s good to show up for the home crowd,” said Scott. “I won’t lie, so it’s nice.”
After being held to zero points and just three rebounds for the first 12:17 of the game, Scott sprang off the mat to score 16 points and grab 10 boards over the remainder of the afternoon. His tenacious and spirited play in front of the hometown fans helped break a close game wide open in the second half.
Scott’s first bucket came at the 7:43 mark of the first half, as the Buffs were clinging to a tenuous nine-point lead. By the time he scored his final bucket nearly 18 minutes later, the Buffs lead had ballooned to 28 points mostly on the strength of the big man’s domination of an undersized and overwhelmed Falcon front court.
“Once I got the ball in the high-post, I was just looking for Josh down low and we executed well,” said freshman forward Wesley Gordon.
Scott’s play may have been the highlight of the game, but it was an effective Colorado defense that won it. The Buffs out-rebounded the Falcons 42-25 and forced them into a resounding 18 turnovers as AFA was held to a season-low 57 points. The 57 points were the fewest the Buffs have allowed in a road game since they gave up 47 at Oregon last year.
Despite all of the Air Force mistakes, the turnover issues were far from one-sided. The Buffs turned the ball over nine times themselves in the first half and it was the sloppy play that kept Air Force in the game for more than a half. The Falcons, who had more than twice as many turnovers (12) as assists (5), were down only 10 at halftime.
CU coach Tad Boyle later attributed the first-half carelessness to an Air Force zone that took his young team more than a half to decipher. After a few halftime adjustments, the Buffs then turned the ball over just five times in the second half.
“It’s not fun playing against the zone for 40 minutes,” said Boyle. “We tell our guys all the time, the reason they are playing a zone is because they don’t feel like they can guard you (in man-to-man defense). So, we have to be patient, and get the ball moved. Our guys would rather play 40 minutes against the (man-to-man defense), but we’re going to see a lot of the zone. It’s just the way college basketball is being played now, and people trying to stay out of foul trouble.”
Scott wasn’t the only Buff player who triumphantly returned to his hometown on Saturday. Gordon, who also hails from the Colorado Springs area, scored six points, pulled down three rebounds and had two blocks in his own successful return to the city.
“It was a big game for them, in front of their friends and family,” said Boyle. “Colorado Springs, and this community, means a lot to both those young men and their families – their families are obviously both still here and part of this community. So, it was big for them, and I was happy that they both played well. So, it was a good, good feel-good victory for both those young guys.”
The game began under a barrage of Askia Booker jump shots as the trigger-happy junior hit his four shots, two of them from three-point range, and scored eight of the team’s first 10 points. Booker’s success from the field came as the rest of the team combined for just four field goals in the game’s first 12 minutes.
Booker’s hot early shooting helped the team weather the initial struggles of the other go-to players on offense and gave them each time to find their own rhythm in a slow-paced first half. Booker then scored just three points after the game’s first four minutes, but by end of his hot streak the rest of the CU offense had gained their footing and was more than happy to take the weight off Booker’s shoulders.
“It was nice to see (Booker) come out and hit some shots and get us kind of going, and then we kind of took it from there,” said Boyle. “We came out first part of the second half and made some buckets and extended that thing and never let them get back in the game.”
After a season-opening loss to the Baylor Bears, the Buffs have now won seven straight for the first time since January 2011 as they now head into the gauntlet of their non-conference schedule.
The Buffs will travel to Fort Collins to play a solid Colorado State team on Tuesday at Moby Arena, where they haven’t won since 2007. CU will then play two of the following three games against teams currently ranked in the top five in the country - hosting No. 2 Kansas on Saturday, Dec. 7, then taking on No. 5 Oklahoma State in Las Vegas on Dec. 21.