Nashville, Tenn – The same names were on the back of the Colorado shirts. But this was a much different squad than the one who started their five-game road trip two nights ago.
And it wasn’t just about the Colorado men’s basketball line-up. Head coach Tad Boyle chose to send a message after Friday’s ugly loss at the Grambling State by juggling his starting lineup. It wasn’t a unique tactic, but Boyle decided to turn to four bench players who had never started before at the Buffaloes to set the tone in hostile territory against 11th seed Tennessee.
The trick worked to perfection.
Less than 48 hours after an ugly loss at Grambling State, CU pulled off a stunning performance Sunday afternoon on non-neutral ground, upsetting No. 11 Tennessee 78-66 in front of a pro-volunteer crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
He was the highest-rated opponent the Buffs had defeated on neutral ground since he upset sixth-ranked Missouri at the Big Eight in 1990.
“I felt like we should send a message to the players who start the game, that they have a responsibility to bring the energy and get ready to go,” Boyle said. “Because we have quality depth in this team. It was also a message to those guys on the bench that you better be ready. And I thought those guys who really started the game, in the (first) media lead time were there.
“We have a 10-man rotation at the moment, and 10 men is difficult to play. But I thought it was a message I sent to both the players who started the game and the players on the bench that we are all equally important and we have to be ready to go every time we step in. Down to earth. Really proud of the way they responded.”
It was a thrilling win that wiped out much of the bad taste left behind by Grambling, but it was hardly without its flaws.
The Buffs once again struggled with turnarounds, committing 11 in the first half and 19 overall. While some questionable calls were mixed with the wrong total in the first 30 minutes, the Buffs had to overcome a foul issue and review first-half free throws for Tennessee, which largely built a 34-32 first-half lead with a 17- to 21 effort on the line.
In the end, though, it was the classic Colorado case of using defense and rebounding to find a way to win, even though the Buffs shot it 0.536 (15 for 28) after halftime. CU teased the Vols to a low 0.254, including a 10-for-37 mark on 3 throws. The Buffs scored 12 steals, forced 15 turns in Tennessee and, despite their own giveaway, actually had a slight advantage in turning stops (16-14).
CU also dominated Vols in paint points (34-10) and fast break points (12-3). The Buffs trailed by two points in the first half but outperformed Tennessee 46-32 in the second.
“We just wanted to focus on coming out in the second half with more energy than we did in the first,” said CU goalkeeper KJ Simpson. “We knew they were going to try to go out and try to get momentum, engage the fans more, and use their energy a lot. We just wanted to focus on getting out better than we did at the beginning.”
Simpson took his omission from the starting line-up to heart, scoring the first double of his career with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The same goes for Tristan da Silva, who enjoyed a nearly flawless shooting performance (5 for 7 overall, 2 for 3 triples, 2 for 2 free throws) before finishing with 14 points. J’Vonne Hadley only scored five points, but scored 10 rebounds and three crack shots.
Early in the second half, CU led for the first time since its opening moments in an 8-0 run highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers from Galen Gabedon and Julian Hammond III. The Buffs had a five-point lead when they dominated the game 9-0, capping the Lawson Lovering-to-da Silva 3 Index.
“It talks about the character of our guys,” Boyle said. “They are competitors. KJ is as good a competitor as ever on this program, and we have some good competitors. They had bad taste in their mouths, like we all did. But they responded. That’s the thing you want to see from your team and your players, is how they respond to challenges.” that confront them.”
Shot: CU Buffs vs. No. 11 TN
turning point: The Buffs took their first lead since the opening minutes with an 8-0 score early in the second half, then dominated the game 9-0 minutes later.
POV game: KJ Simpson. The sophomore had the best match of his young career, scoring the first double of his career with his career high at 23 points and 10 rebounds. Simpson was also 7 for 9 on free throws, all in the second half.
What’s Next: The long ride continues at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, as the Buffs open a three-game tournament against UMass on Thursday (11:30AM ET, ESPNU).
Colorado 78, No. 11 TN 66
Lovering 1-2 1-1 3, Gabbidon 2-9 3-5 8, O’Brien 1-5 0-0 2, Ruffin 2-5 1-1 5, Wright 3-5 0-0 8, Simpson 7- 16 7-9 23, da Silva 5-7 2-2 14, Hammond 4-6 0-0 9, Hadley 2-5 1-1 5, Clifford 0-2 1-2 1, Hurlburt 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 16-21 78.
Nekomo 1-8 2-4 4, Phillips 1-6 3-4 5, Plavsic 0-0 0-0 0, Viscovi 2-13 5-5 11, Ziegler 4-12 2-3 12, Key 2-9 9 -11 15, James 5-11 1-1 15, Mashak 1-4 0-0 2, Aido 0-0 2-2 2, Owaka 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-63 24-30 66.
half time – Tennessee 34 – 32. 3 points field goals – Colorado 8-26 (Da Silva 2-3, Wright 2-4, Simpson 2-7, Hammond 1-2, Gabidon 1-4, Clifford 0-1, Ruffin 0-2, O’Brien 0-3), Tennessee 10- 37 (James 4-8, Key 2-5, Ziegler 2-6, Viscovi 2-11, Phillips 0-3, Nkamhua 0-4). Follow-ups – Colorado 47 (Hadley 10, Simpson 10), Tennessee 38 (Ncamhwa 10). helps – Colorado 12 (Simpson, Hammond 3), Tennessee 13 (Zigler 4). total errors – Colorado 21, Tennessee 21. a – 12482.