Written by  in Sports on Feb 27, 2011 5:00 / comments

The Buffs rallied from behind, and they never looked back.

On Saturday afternoon in the Coors Events Center, the Colorado men’s basketball upset the No.5 Texas Longhorns, 91-89.

Starting the second half with a 15 point deficit, the Buffs saw an opportunity for a comeback, and they took it.

“We were pretty amped up because we knew we could play a lot better,” said senior guard Levi Knutson, who scored 21 points against the Longhorns.

The Buffs’ effort in the first half was nothing to be proud of. With the score 11-11 early in the half, CU entered a scoring drought and fell behind, 11-25. The Longhorns widened their lead to 43-22 with 4:39 left in the half.

Colorado was able to make up only seven of those points before the buzzer, making the halftime score 48-33. It was the CU’s biggest halftime deficit of the season.

“They were out-hustling us and out-rebounding us,” said senior guard Cory Higgins.

Head coach Tad Boyle said he knew what needed to be done in the second half, but he wasn’t sure whether or not his Buffs could make it happen.

“We talked about defending, we talked about rebounding, and we talked about executing on offense,” Boyle said. “[But] I didn’t know what to expect.”

But when the second half started, something clicked, and the energy in the Coors Events Center started to change.

Four minutes into the second half, sophomore guard Alec Burks, who shot just 3-of-11 from the field in the first half, went on a scoring streak.

When Burks closed the gap to single digits at 58-50, Knutson felt the momentum kick in.

“That’s when I knew we were there to fight until the end of the game,” Knutson said.

Senior forward Marcus Relphorde then hit a three-pointer, bringing the score within five points.

Burks kept on scoring, slowly closing the point gap to two. It was a three-pointer from Knutson with 9:43 left in the half that finally gave the Buffs the lead, 62-61.

From that point on, Knutson’s momentum was unstoppable. He hit two more three-pointers over the next three minutes, giving CU a five-point lead at 70-65.

“It was an unbelievable accomplishment to be up five,” Boyle said. “That’s when I thought, okay, we can finish this thing off.”

Sophomore guard Alec Burks shoots over Texas defender Dogus Balbay during the second half of the Buffaloes’ 91-89 win over the 5th-ranked Longhorns on Saturday. (CU Independent/Jonathan Zwick)

Burks, Knutson, and Higgins didn’t let up, hitting shot after shot to give the Buffs a game-high 11 point lead with 4:06 left in the half.

The Longhorns didn’t give up the fight.

Texas freshman Tristan Thompson scored on a dunk and a free throw with 2:32 left in the half. Sophomore Jordan Hamilton then added seven with three free throws and two treys, bringing the score uncomfortably close 88-86 with 14 seconds to go.

“They didn’t make it easy for us,” Boyle said.

The Buffs have seen plenty of close games this season, and they’re used to the pressure.

“We’ve been in so many games like that,” Higgins said. “So we knew what we had to do.”

Burks eased the pressure by making two free throws. Hamilton went for another three, but missed this time, and with three seconds to go, Burks made another free throw to bring the score to 91-86.

Texas senior Gary Johnson made a three-pointer at the final buzzer, but the Buffs had already secured their win. With a final score of 91-89, the crowd rushed the court to celebrate the upset.

“It’s crazy with all those people around you,” said Burks, who led all scorers with 33 total points. “You can’t move.”

Boyle said the support from fans was key, but that he hopes one day a win like this won’t seem like an upset.

“I want to get to the point where we’re on the road and we get beat, and they rush the court because they beat Colorado,” Boyle said. “That’s when we know we’ve arrived.”

Saturday’s win may have meant the most to senior Cory Higgins. It was his 123rd career game, tying CU’s all-time record.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of that since freshman year,” Higgins said. “I can’t describe how good it feels just knowing where we came from.”

After such a crucial win, the Buffs look forward to the last two games of the season and their chances at a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“It puts us in the mix– we’re in the conversation now,” Knutson said. “We can’t look back, so we’ve just got to look to the next two games.”

The Buffs play Iowa State on the road this Wednesday. On Saturday, they take to the Coors Events Center one more time, battling Nebraska in their last regular season conference game.

“[The win] gave us added confidence, if anything,” Higgins said. “If we play like we’re supposed to, we can beat anybody.”

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer at Caryn.maconi@colorado.edu.