There was a moment late in the first half when Colorado head coach Tad Boyle wondered if his team could play any worse. And yet the scoreboard said his team, despite it all, was trailing by only four points.
The Buffaloes were right there. And then they weren’t, and turnovers were a primary culprit.
CU perhaps could have survived a season-low shooting performance, or even the monster game turned in by Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler, if not for a glut of first-half turnovers that prevented the Buffs from gaining any sort of offensive rhythm. After No. 13 Tennessee put the finishing touches on a 69-54 decision on Saturday that sent CU to its second consecutive defeat, Boyle lamented the comedy of errors that kept the Buffs from putting up a more competitive fight.
“We had three (turnovers) in a row. One was bad footwork. One we dribbled off our leg. And one of them we didn’t know where we were in the corner out of bounds,” Boyle said. “It’s such things that are in your control. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half. You can’t do that against a good team.”
Last season, even with decorated point guard McKinley Wright IV running the show, the Buffs visited a nationally-ranked Tennessee team and committed a season-high 23 turnovers in defeat. Yet that showing was due in large part to a smothering Volunteers defensive effort led by former SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons.
Saturday’s display of futility was due mostly to the Buffs’ own miscues.
CU committed 12 of its 15 turnovers in the first half, leading to a 17-2 advantage for Tennessee at halftime in points off turnovers. Most of those mistakes by CU were self-inflicted. Eight different players combined to commit those 12 first-half turnovers, which included just about every sort of inane mistake imaginable.
There was freshman KJ Simpson and sophomore Luke O’Brien missing connections on a fast break pass that should’ve ended with an easy layup. Tristan da Silva misfired on a post entry pass. Senior Elijah Parquet lost track of space in the corner and stepped out of bounds. And one sequence late in the first half saw Simpson, Nique Clifford, Julian Hammond and da Silva all throw errant passes in quick succession.
CU’s 15 turnovers was its most since the first two games of the year, when the Buffs committed 16 against Montana State and 18 against New Mexico.
“Coach talked about it in the locker room, basketball is a game of runs,” da Silva said. “We started off pretty good, but then we’ve got to take care of the ball offensively. I turned it over. We’ve got to value the ball, because otherwise we won’t get shots up.”
Big game James
Veteran Tennessee coach Rick Barnes applauded the effort of reserve guard Josiah-Jordan James, whose solid contributions off the bench were overshadowed by the 27-point game put together by Chandler.
James missed the previous three games due to a hand injury, but he returned to the rotation against the Buffs and went 2-for-3 with five points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals without a turnover in 25 and a half minutes.
“I thought what he did on both ends of the court was huge for us,” Barnes said. “He didn’t have a particularly great day shooting the ball, but when we needed to respond, we did.”
It was a game of extremes for CU point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy.
Barthelemy finished with four assists and only one turnover, giving him 10 assists and one turnover over the past three games. His season assist-to-turnover rate improved to a solid 1.67 (25 assists, 15 turnovers), and he also recorded a career-high nine rebounds.
However, Barthelemy was one of several backcourt defenders unable to slow Chandler, and the recent shooting woes continued for Barthelemy as he finished 2-for-13 overall and 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. After shooting .558 overall with an 11-for-16 mark on 3-pointers through the season’s first five games, Barthelemy has shot just .188 (6-for-32) over the past four games while going 0-for-13 on 3-pointers.
Jabari Walker’s four-game double-double streak ended, as he finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Walker matched a career-high with three assists…CU senior Evan Battey was presented with a commemorative basketball prior to tipoff honoring his addition to the Buffs’ 1,000-point club. Battey finished with a team-high 12 points against Tennessee to move past Andre Roberson for 37th on the all-time scoring list with 1,019 points. Battey will pass Chauncey Billups (1,020) for 36th with his next basket and needs eight points to pass Wilky Gilmore and former teammate D’Shawn Schwartz for 34th…Approximately 18 NBA scouts requested credentials for Saturday’s game.