BOULDER - No one said staying unbeaten (or ranked) would be easy, and it wasn't on Tuesday night for the No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes. Texas Southern took CU to double overtime at the Coors Events Center, but the Buffs avoided a calamity, pulling away for an unexpectedly difficult 85-80 win.
"To me the story of the night was Texas Southern, not the Colorado Buffaloes," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "Their kids played their hearts out (and) we were fortunate to win . . . I'm not saying we didn't deserve it, but we definitely have to get better."
CU (6-0) outscored Texas Southern (1-6) 14-9 in the second OT and now enters its toughest non-conference stretch. The Buffs are at Wyoming on Saturday (8 p.m.), return to the Events Center next Wednesday to face Colorado State (8:30 p.m.), travel to No. 10 Kansas on Saturday, Dec. 8 (noon, MST), then follow that trip with a visit to Fresno State on Wednesday, Dec. 12 (8 p.m., MST).
CU lost to both CSU (65-64) and Wyoming (65-54) last season, and Boyle let his players know if their focus doesn't elevate past what it was to open Tuesday night, ugly times await.
"We can blink our eyes in a week and half and be 6-4 instead of 6-0," he said. "This is going to be an unbelievable stretch for our guys."
The Buffs trailed by 15 points in the first half, and coming back from that deficit to win tied for the seventh largest comeback in school history. Also, coming back from a 10-point halftime deficit ranked as CU's eighth-best rally ever.
Yet as unsightly as Tuesday night opened, the Buffs at least finished well enough to win. "This game, at the end of the day, will help us get better," Boyle said. "Maybe we needed a little wakeup going into Wyoming . . . I know we're capable of playing better, but we did things we had to, to win. There are things to build on."
Four Buffs finished in double figures, topped by Spencer Dinwiddie's 24 points, which included 16 from the free throw line. Josh Scott and Andre Roberson each had double-doubles, Scott with 18 points and 12 rebounds, Roberson with 11 and 12 before fouling out with 1:30 left in regulation. Askia Booker added 15 points.
Tigers guard Omar Strong hit 39 points, 27 of them on uncanny three-point shooting. He attempted 21 treys and 29 shots overall. His final trey was the last shot of the night - and it amazed Dinwiddie.
"That last shot of the game tells the tale of the whole night," Dinwiddie said. "He looked down at the floor, at my shoes, and then shot a 35-footer and didn't hit net. So that's the kind of game he had."
The game was tied 59-59 at the end of regulation and 71-71 at the end of the first OT. Scott got the first five points to open the second extra period and CU hit eight of 11 free throws to seal the win.
The Buffs trailed by 10 (39-29) at the half, but it took a Booker trey at the buzzer - his only field goal of the first half - to get them that close. CU played what was easily its most dysfunctional half of the young season, having only two field goals at the 10-minute mark, getting out-rebounded 19-16, committing nine turnovers (vs. two assists) and once again faltering in defending the long ball. The Buffs trailed by as many as 15 before intermission.
Boyle shouldered the blame for the inefficient start: "I didn't have them ready to go . . . we didn't respect them going into the game. We weren't ready and it's on me," he said.
Strong, a 5-9 senior, came in shooting 22 percent from beyond the arc (12-of-53). CU might have paid too much attention to those numbers, because he turned demonic. After the Buffs had taken their only early lead (4-3), Strong reeled off three consecutive triples to send the Tigers ahead 12-4. He got another two before intermission to finish 6-of-10 from behind the arc and added a couple of free throws for 20 first-half points - a nice uptick from his 8.7 average.
Meanwhile, the Buffs were struggling to find their offensive rhythm. Dinwiddie accounted for 10 first-half points, but eight of them were from the free throw line. Scott was the only CU player with more than one field goal (two-for-five).
The Tigers were riding a three-game losing streak, but they didn't play like it. From the 9:43 mark until the halftime buzzer, they held a double-digit lead - the largest margin being 35-20. They wound up going 7-for-17 (41.2 percent) from three-point range and 15-of-30 (50 percent) from the field overall. But they finished the night at 38.4 percent from the field (28-of-73) and 12-of-37 (32.4 percent) from beyond the arc.
The Buffs clearly had to dig themselves out of a deep funk in the final 20 minutes - and the excavation started immediately. The Tigers were forced into a five-second turnover on their first possession, and that flipped the switch for an 11-0 run that sent the Buffs up 40-39- their first lead since 4-3.
Thereafter, the Buffs managed leads no larger than three points and a trey by Raymond Penn sent the Tigers up 50-48 with 9 minutes to play. Dinwiddie answered on CU's next possession (51-50) and Roberson followed with a layup (53-50) when the Buffs broke the visitors' press. When Dinwiddie added another triple, CU had an 8-0 run going and its largest lead to that point - 56-50 - with 6:44 remaining.
The Tigers weren't finished. They crept to within 57-56 with 3:06 left, but Scott's pair of free throws at 1:51 put CU up 59-56. Aaron Clayborn made one of two free throws 21 seconds later to cut the Buffs' lead to 59-57.
Booker had an open look from the right wing, but missed badly and first-year TSU coach Mike Davis called a timeout with 59.3 seconds showing. The Tigers worked the ball low to Fred Sturdivant, who tied the score at 59-59 with 42.5 seconds to play.
CU's possible winning possession fizzled when the Buffs failed to beat the shot clock, giving the Tigers 7.5 seconds to win it. But Strong's shot with one second left clanked off the back of the iron and OT was on tap - minus Roberson.
Time for Scott to step up - and he did. "Since Andre is such a great rebounder, pretty much Andre and everyone else was encouraging me to rebound and keep being aggressive on the boards," Scott said. "And I think I did that."
Strong scored TSU's first nine points in the extra period, including a long trey to give the Tigers a 66-63 lead and two of three free throws to tie the score at 68-68 with 1:15 left in the extra period.
With 41 seconds showing and 4 seconds on the shot clock, Booker took an in-bounds pass in the left corner and launched his trey. It swished. It was CU 71, TSU 68 with 41 seconds remaining.
The Tigers called two timeouts, the final one with 13.7 seconds on the game clock and 9 on the shot clock. Lawrence Danner-Johnson tied the score at 71 with a three from the left wing.
It was the Buffs' turn for a timeout. They called it with 5.2 seconds left. Booker missed from the right wing - and it was on to OT No. 2. And that apparently was OK with Scott. The 6-10 freshman opened the scoring with an inside bucket, then added a conventional three-point play to give the Buffs a 76-71 advantage. Classmate Xavier Johnson, who played both OTs with four fouls, added another pair of free throws to up the lead to 78-72 with 3:28 remaining - and that seemed safe enough.
It was. When Sabatino Chen finished a fast break with a layup, the Buffs had an 80-72 cushion and finally could take a deep breath.
"You got to see the makeup of the team," Dinwiddie said. "They punched us in the mouth, we came back and then it was a dog fight from there on out.
"We didn't break apart, we didn't crumble, we didn't start going after each other. We pulled together and we won this game."
Ahead are the real tests - four monsters in a row. If Boyle wants more from his team, he knows what to expect from the other guys: "No one is going to be intimidated by us because we're No. 19."