Sophomore guard Alec Burks evades Daniel King of Texas Southern to score two of his 27 points during the Buffaloes’ 88-74 win over the Tigers on Wednesday. The Buffs will move on to play the California Golden Bears in the second round of the NIT tournament on Friday. (CU Independent/Jonathan Zwick)
The CU men’s basketball team has something to prove.
After a disappointing Selection Sunday that robbed the Buffs of what they felt was a deserved spot in the NCAA Tournament, Wednesday night’s NIT game against Southern Texas was a shot at redemption.
As a No.1 seed in the National Invitation Tournament, Colorado earned its chance to play once again at the Coors Events Center.
While the Tigers were the first to score, Colorado quickly responded, gaining a 10-2 lead five minutes into the half. Seven of those points were scored by senior guard Cory Higgins.
“Cory was really dialed in,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “I think he willed us tonight, and that’s what we needed.”
Though Colorado took the early lead, Southern Texas crept back into contention over the next ten minutes. With 5:39 left in the half, the Tigers closed the gap to three (26-23.)
The Buffs have rallied in the second half all too often this season, and they weren’t about to let the game get away from them.
Together, Cory Higgins, freshman guard Andre Roberson, and sophomore guard Alec Burks went on a scoring streak that got the Coors crowd on their feet. They racked up a combined 18 points before the buzzer, making the score at halftime a comfortable 44-29.
To start the second half, the Buffs took command of the court. Burks showed his stuff with a dunk in the first ten seconds, giving CU its largest lead yet at 44-29.
The Tigers went on a scoring streak over the next few minutes, coming within 11 points of the Buffs with 18:03 left in the half, but Colorado would only widen the lead from there.
Burks, Higgins, and senior forward Marcus Relphorde scored a field goal each, and senior guard Levi Knutson hit his first trey of the night to bring the score to 55-37.
A three from Burks, a dunk each from Roberson and redshirt freshman guard Shannon Sharpe, and another three from Knutson brought the Colorado lead to 20 with 11:16 to go.
The Buffs held onto that energy for the rest of the game.
A lay-up from Higgins with 5:44 remaining brought the Buffs to a game-high 24-point lead. While the Tigers were able to claw their way back to within 15 by the buzzer, a Texas Southern comeback never seemed to be a threat.
With a final score of 88-74, the Buffs certainly made a statement. The victory sent this year’s team into the record books with its 22nd win, tying the record number of wins for a season in CU’s history.
“This team will be the standard… in terms of wins,” Boyle said. “This team has something special that it can make it into the record books.”
Though it’s not the NCAA Tournament, the NIT is an accomplishment for the Buffs. Before this year, the last time Colorado made it into the postseason was in March of 2006.
Wednesday’s game marked the first postseason contest of senior Cory Higgins’s career.
“It’s definitely nice to be playing this time of year,” Higgins said. “I’m glad I was part of something that got this program turned around.”
Freshman Andre Roberson said seniors like Higgins were crucial in helping the team move past Selection Sunday to focus on the NIT.
“It was their last time,” Roberson said. “They didn’t want to go out like that on their home court.”
The win takes Colorado into the second round of the NIT. In a preview of Pac 12 competition, the Buffs will take on the California Golden Bears at 7:30 Friday night at the Coors Events Center.
Boyle hopes loyal Buffs fans will postpone their spring break travels until after Friday’s game.
“Friday night is another opportunity for out fans to help us get over the hump,” Boyle said. “We need it.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Caryn Maconi at Caryn.firstname.lastname@example.org.