ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands — Since the 2021-22 Colorado men’s basketball got its first small taste of competition during an exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August, a recurring theme of head coach Tad Boyle’s has been finishing.
In this case, it’s not just about finishing drives to the basket. It could mean finishing defensive possessions, or finishing offensive possessions at the free throw line, or finishing first halves with some measure of momentum.
The Buffaloes did none of those things on Friday. The result was a 67-63 defeat against Southern Illinois in the first round of the Paradise Jam, which relegated the Buffs to the consolation bracket and a Saturday date against Duquesne (3:45 p.m. MT, ESPN3).
Not only did the Buffs miss several prime looks during a 3-for-19 cold snap in the first half that followed a 5-for-5 start, but a team that set a program and Pac-12 Conference record for free throw percentage (.819) put up a 9-for-15 mark (.600) against the Salukis. And even with that first-half cold spell, the Buffs still were in a 19-19 tie late in the period before allowing Southern Illinois to reel off the final eight points before halftime.
“Finishing is something we’ve talked about since Costa Rica,” Boyle said. “In Costa Rica we weren’t finishing well against poor teams. Tonight we played a good team and we couldn’t finish.
“Part of it is finishing at the rim. Part of it is finishing at the free throw line. Part of it is finishing the half. We didn’t finish the first half. We have to finish possessions. We had a couple possessions where we got deflections, and the ball didn’t bounce our way and they hit some threes.”
Walker fouls woes
It’s no secret that avoiding foul trouble was one of the biggest challenges for CU’s dynamic forward Jabari Walker as he made the jump into his sophomore season. But that habit might be something opponents are targeting.
Walker watched the final 10 minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls, and the first of those fouls occurred just 30 seconds into the game. Southern Illinois went after Walker on a feed into the post, putting CU’s most explosive player behind the pace in regard to fouls for the remainder of the contest.
“It’s definitely in their game plan,” Walker said. “I’m just going to have to continue to play solid defense straight-up and not allow them to foul pressure. I’m conscious of that. I think that’s in their game plan.”
Dealing with Duquesne
Friday’s loss sets up Saturday’s matchup against Duquesne, a program CU has not faced since a pair of games in 1940.
The Dukes fell to 1-3 on Friday with a Paradise Jam first-round loss against Northeastern, which committed 19 turnovers. Duquesne, however, couldn’t take advantage, finishing .311 from the floor with a 4-for-21 mark (.190) on 3-pointers.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves at all,” Walker said. “We’ve still got to compete and we’ve got to learn from this. We’ve got to get rest. It’s a quick turnaround. We can’t let this affect us tomorrow.”
On Monday, the Buffs will face either Brown or Bradley in their Paradise Jam finale. A win against Duquesne will put CU in the 1:15 p.m. MT game on Monday. If the Buffs lose against the Dukes, they play at 11 a.m. MT on Monday.
With the quick turnaround before facing Duquesne, Boyle said he expects the CU bench to play a bigger role. Boyle shortened his bench in the second half against Southern Illinois. Among the top four bench players, Lawson Lovering didn’t play at all after halftime, while KJ Simpson, Nique Clifford, and Luke O’Brien received the bulk of their minutes in the first half.
“I’ve got to keep developing our bench. I really shortened the rotation in the second half,” Boyle said. “We’re going to need our bench to step up (Saturday). A lot of these guys played a lot of minutes and it’s a short turnaround.”
CU assistant Rick Ray did not arrive in St. Thomas until a few hours before Friday’s game due to a personal matter…Evan Battey went 5-for-6 against Southern Illinois, increasing his already-robust shooting percentage through four games to .769 (20-for-26)…Senior guard Elijah Parquet committed only one turnover in 96:30 of court time through the first three games, but he committed two turnovers in the first 2:17 against the Salukis. Parquet did match a career-high with four assists…Even though CU shot .500 overall, the Buffs finished with a season-low 11 assists.