CHARLESTON, S.C. - Revenge is sweet. Is payback sweeter? Doesn't matter. The Colorado Buffaloes got both Friday afternoon in the Charleston Classic, holding off No. 16 Baylor 60-58 to advance to the tournament's championship game.
The tournament takes a day off Saturday, with play resuming Sunday. The Buffs will play Murray State, a 72-67 winner on Friday over St. John's, for the championship at 6:30 p.m. MST (ESPN2) in the TD Arena.
CU reeled in a rare signature win in November, with its last defeat of a ranked team in non-conference regular season play dating to 1973. Buffs coach Tad Boyle understood the magnitude of that as well as what it meant to defeat Baylor.
"In our first year (at CU), we're up 10 at the half down there; we let one slip away," a joyous Boyle said. "Last year in the NCAA Tournament we had another chance . . . it was a tie game with four or five minutes to go and we didn't finish it off.
"That's why I was so excited after the game - and that we had fans down here to support this team and program. I want them to know how much we appreciate it and all the people back home who couldn't make the trip."
CU's last win against a ranked opponent came last March in the NCAA Tournament, when the Buffs defeated No. 23 UNLV. In the next game in Albuquerque, N.M, Baylor ousted the Buffs 80-63.
After Thursday's 67-57 win against Dayton here, CU players were pointing at Baylor. They got their wish Friday - but making it come true wasn't easy. On the game's final play, Baylor's 7-1 freshman, Isaiah Austin, caught a three-quarter length of the court rainbow pass, but missed at the buzzer.
"I held my breath," said CU junior Andre Roberson. "I thought he was going to hit the shot. But he missed it luckily and we came out with the win."
Added Buffs sophomore Askia Booker: "All kinds of things are running through your brain, but you try to stay positive with your teammates. We've been here before, we've been in close games. We just had to fight through it and stay together and be positive."
Booker led the Buffs with a career-high 19 points - 16 in the first half. Spencer Dinwiddie (11) was the only other CU player in double figures. Baylor (3-1) was led by Cory Jefferson's 17, with Pierre Jackson adding 12.
CU made only four of 18 free throw attempts, including missing five of six in the final 1:01. The four makes were the fewest in a Buffs win since the 1980 team sank only two against Oklahoma in a 60-59 win. Fortunately on Friday, Booker hit one of two with 11.6 seconds to play, giving CU its narrow margin.
The Buffs (3-0) led four times in the first half, three of the advantages coming in the first 5 minutes and the first coming on a Dinwiddie trey (5-2). From there, CU's challenge seemed to be staying close - and it was a challenge.
But Booker and the Buffs were up for it.
The long and athletic Bears twice led by five points in the first 20 minutes, with their second advantage coming on the heels of a controversial blocking call against Josh Scott. One official - two-thirds of the trio was from the Big 12 - whistled a charging foul on Pierre Jackson, but an outside official overruled it.
The officials huddled, the Buffs bench objected, but the call stood. Jackson hit one of two free throws, then added a three-pointer on the next Baylor possession, sending the Bears up 22-17.
CU - especially Booker - had loads of fight left. He tied the score at 22-22 with a trey at the about the 5 minute mark. After Baylor had crept ahead by three, Andre Roberson stepped back and drained a three-pointer to tie it again at 30-30.
Then it was "Ski Season" in South Carolina - at least for the first half's final minute. With the shot clock ticking toward zero on CU's next-to-last possession, Booker drained his second trey of the half to send the Buffs up 33-30.
When Baylor gave up the ball on the ensuing possession, the Buffs let the final 17 seconds wind down - with the ball in Booker's hands. With two seconds showing, he pulled up just inside the three-point arc at the top of the key. His soft jumper nestled into the net and CU left the court with a 35-30 halftime lead.
Booker finished the half with 16 points on a career-high seven field goals and was the only player on either team in double figures. He called it "absolutely" the best half of his college career: "At this level, with this intensity, yeah it was."
The Buffs outrebounded the Bears 22-17 - a Tad Boyle mandate - in the first half and 41-40 for the game. Boyle called that "no easy task because they have some length and good athletes out there who are a little bit longer than ours and little more athletic at some positions. But our guys found a way and we overcame."
CU gave up only three three-pointers to Baylor - a huge upgrade from their last meeting in March in the NCAA Tournament when the Bears' Brady Heslip gunned down nine of 12 from beyond the arc for 27 points. In Friday's first half, Heslip had two points and 0-for-3 from three-point range. He finished with seven points - and one trey.
Boyle's biggest concern might have been his team's first-half free throw shooting. After going only 14-of-24 from the line against Dayton, CU ended Friday's first half one-for-six and finished the afternoon with 14 misses.
But the Buffs had other issues to open the second half, turning the ball over on two of their first four possessions and leaving Heslip open in transition. His first trey of the afternoon - and his only one of the game - brought the Bears to 37-35 in the first 3 minutes.
Baylor tied the score at 37-37 on a baby hook by Jefferson, but Boyle and his bench believed Jefferson's toss didn't beat the shot clock. Whatever, the game was tied with 151/2 minutes to play and CU couldn't allow Baylor to muster any more momentum.
At the 10-minute mark, the Bears took a 45-44 lead - their first since 30-27 - on a twisting drive and layup by Deuce Bello. The Buffs answered with a key trey from the left wing by Eli Stalzer and a goal tending call on a steal/layup by Sabatino Chen.
That four-point CU advantage (49-45) wilted fast. Baylor went inside and got immediate results from the 7-1 Austin and 6-8 Rico Gathers, who pulled the Bears within 50-49 with 7:30 remaining. But the Buffs stayed focused.
After Josh Scott scored on a goal tending call on Austin, Dinwiddie buried a three-pointer, sending the Buffs up 55-51. They hawked the ball on the Bears' next possession, forcing a tie up that went to CU. Dinwiddie hit again, this time a two-pointer to give the Buffs their biggest lead at 57-51 with 3:40 to play.
But could they hold it? Yes, but with difficulty.
At the 3:00 mark, Baylor - trailing 57-52 - began pressing and extended its halfcourt defense. With 1:55 left, Jefferson hit a follow shot (57-54), Dinwiddie answered with a floating layup (59-54), Jackson countered with a jumper (59-56) and then added two free throws (59-58) with 19.8 seconds to play.
Dinwiddie missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Shane Harris-Tunks controlled the rebound. Booker was fouled with 11.6 seconds showing, hit the front end of his one-and-one (60-58) then missed the second.
Baylor rebounded, A.J. Walton drove the length of the court but couldn't hit a difficult running shot from the right side. Roberson got the last of his 12 rebounds, was fouled and went to the free throw line. With 3.1 seconds left, he missed both attempts but in the scramble for the second miss, time nearly expired.
Baylor got possession with a second remaining. Austin caught a lob pass just above the free throw line, turned, shot . . . and missed.
The Buffs had one sweet 'W.'
"It's revenge, it means a lot," Booker said. "It burned last year in our hearts. Just knowing we could have this chance and we finally got it. We took full advantage of it. I loved it."