LAS VEGAS – Colorado cut a 12-point Oklahoma State lead to four in the final minute here Saturday night, but that’s where the Buffaloes’ rally and their 10-game winning streak would stop. The No. 7 Cowboys held on for a 78-73 win in the second game of the MGM Grand Showcase.
No. 20 CU (10-2) struggled to get timely stops and had just as much trouble finding an offensive rhythm, and when Phil Forte III drained a long trey just under the 3-minute mark Okie State (11-1) had a 73-61 lead. The Buffs were running out of chances and time, but a 10-2 flurry brought them to within 75-71 on a put-back by Josh Scott with 26 seconds to play.
OSU’s Marcus Smart hit a pair of free throws (77-71) with 23.4 seconds remaining but Scott answered with two (77-73) at the 16-second mark. Two seconds later, Forte hit one of two foul shots for the Cowboys’ final margin.
“I take the blame for this loss,” said CU coach Tad Boyle. “As a coach I didn’t do a good job on the sideline. I didn’t have our team ready to play tonight for whatever reason. I’ve got to look myself in the mirror.”
In hindsight, Boyle questioned whether he had the Buffs practice as much as necessary during semester finals week which preceded Saturday’s game. “That’s where I take responsibility as a coach, coming off of finals and we had two practices as a team,” he said. “I thought that at this time of the season we could carry over without those lengthy practices through finals; I want to respect our guys as students.
“So, as a basketball coach it’s really hard to take that time and back off, and maybe that hurt us tonight. It’s not an excuse, it’s just the fact that we weren’t as sharp and we need to become sharper and the only way you can do that is by practicing.”
Nonetheless, Boyle added, “We have so much room for improvement, we still haven’t put a (complete) game together, and yet we played the No. 7 team in the country to a five-point game on a neutral court and we don’t feel like we played well, at all.”
CU junior guard Askia Booker, who finished with a season-high 19 points, disagreed with Boyle shouldering the loss. “I don’t think the blame goes on coach Boyle,” he said. “He’s just tough on himself – just like I am on myself . . . the only thing we maybe could have done better was a have a couple more days of practice.”
The Cowboys’ 78 points were the most the Buffs have allowed this season. OSU shot 61.9 percent from the field (13-of-21) in the second half and finished at 52.1 percent (25-of-48). CU shot only 40.6 percent from the field (26-of-64). The Buffs outrebounded the Cowboys 41-30 and got 21 second-chance points to the Cowboys’ four.
CU junior guard Spencer Dinwiddie called OSU’s second-half shooting percentage “very disappointing . . . we just dug ourselves a hole.” But the self-burial started in the first half.
Among Boyle’s pre-game goals was to limit the Cowboys’ layups, targeting six as a minimum to give the Buffs the best chance of winning. That was six for the game – not the first half.
But that’s what CU allowed in the first 20 minutes, which helped Okie State roll to a 32-26 lead at intermission. Also contributing were nine of the Buffs’ 14 total turnovers, which resulted in 11 first-half Cowboys points (20 points for the game). Smart, who finished with 18 points, and Markel Brown, who scored a game-best 23, got to the rim unimpeded twice each in the opening half, with the other two layups scored by Kamari Murphy and Michael Cobbins.
The Buffs tightened their interior defense by a couple of clicks, allowing five second-half layups. But the Cowboys’ presented other offensive problems – namely a pair of late, long treys by Forte, who scored 16 points off the bench on four-of-seven shooting from beyond the arc and four-of-seven free throws.
Dinwiddie, who finished with 19 points, called Forte’s treys “timely” and said the Buffs’ first-half turnovers and their porous second-half defense are “never good enough against a good team. Those are probably the three (biggest) things.”
CU got a double-double from Scott – 20 points, tying a season high, and 12 rebounds. Scott hit 10-of-13 free throws and scored 18 of his total in the second half, when Boyle said the Buffs began to focus more on getting the ball inside: “We had 17 paint touches in the first half; we want 50 for the game.”
“If we could get that first half back and play like we did in the second, I think it would be a different outcome,” Scott said, referring more to his team’s nine turnovers and yielding the six layups than him not getting more first-half touches.
The Buffs’ largest lead was three points (7-4) following a five-point burst by Booker. That also was CU’s last lead, with four ties following before intermission.
But permitting the six layups undoubtedly wasn’t Boyle’s only beef with his Buffs in the first half. In addition to their nine turnovers, they made a season-low (for a first half) three assists and got to the free throw line just once (Xavier Johnson hit one of two). CU finished the night making 15-of-20 free throws – not close to an average night’s work for the Buffs – while OSU made 23-of-35.
“Coming into this game, we’re eighth in the country in free throw attempts,” Boyle said. “We’re eighth in the country for free throws made; we didn’t get to the free throw line tonight, for whatever reason. Obviously we have to figure out how to score when we’re not getting to the free throw line, but that’s frustrating when you know over an 11-game schedule how many free throws you shoot and that’s a big part of your offensive identity and then you don’t get to the free throw line – for whatever reason – frustration sets in a little bit. We’ve got to get better in that regard, so we have to become a better half-court execution team.”
Boyle also said the Cowboys’ zone defense in the second half “got us standing, which is exactly what they want, but we didn’t handle that well at times.”
Also, getting forward Wesley Gordon back after a two-game absence didn’t help CU that much in the opening half. At the 16:06 mark, Gordon was whistled for his second foul and went to the bench with two rebounds and a steal.
He didn’t return (or score) until the second half opened, hitting a foul line jumper – his only points for the night – that brought the Buffs to 34-30. A Booker layup off a steal by Scott cut the deficit to 34-32 half a minute later. But the Cowboys widened their lead to five points (37-32) on one of three free throws by Smart and a jumper by Brown with just over 161/2 minutes remaining.
Okie State’s advantage ballooned to eight (44-36) before Dinwiddie hit a trey from the left corner and one of two free by Scott cut the Buffs’ deficit in half (44-40). The Cowboys went another layup spree, getting three – including a dunk and free throw by Smart – and a pair of treys by Forte to take their first double-figure lead of the night (63-53) with 7:32 to play. At that point, Boyle tried to regroup his troops with a timeout. It didn’t help immediately, but the Buffs kept grinding.
“I love the toughness and the grit and the fight in our team, and I have a lot of respect for Oklahoma State and their players,” Boyle said. “It’s just disappointing because we will never have this opportunity again unless were fortunate enough to get them in the (NCAA) tournament.”
The Buffs don’t play again until Saturday, Dec. 28 when they host Georgia at the Coors Events Center. Their first post-Christmas practice is scheduled for Thursday.