Colorado’s upset bid wasn’t spoiled by Tennessee. The Buffaloes kicked this opportunity away all by themselves.
CU couldn’t get out of its own way during a showdown against the 13th-ranked Volunteers on Saturday afternoon, committing far too many turnovers in the first half before failing to get key stops at critical junctures in the second half. The end result was a 69-54 defeat for the Buffs at the CU Events Center.
It was CU’s second loss against a top-15 foe in four days, and the defeat also ended the Buffs’ six-game winning streak against ranked teams at home. CU began the week believing a strong showing against fifth-ranked UCLA and the Vols might put the Buffs ahead of the curve for eventual NCAA Tournament projections.
Instead, afterward CU head coach Tad Boyle described his team as “average at best” as the Buffs will attempt to regroup ahead of home games next week against Eastern Washington and Milwaukee.
“Opportunity lost for the Buffs today. And it was right there to be had,” Boyle said. “I felt like we could’ve beat Tennessee if we play close to the level of our ability and skill. But we didn’t. We were not good enough offensively. We were not good enough defensively.
“Tennessee is a good team. They expose your weaknesses. And obviously our high-ball defense was pathetic.”
That almost nonexistent high-ball defense Boyle referred to led to a monster game for Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler, who showed the season-high Events Center crowd of 8,688 why he was a five-star prospect considered one of the best point guard recruits in the 2021 class.
Chandler repeatedly broke down the CU defense to get to the rim at will, eventually finishing 13-for-20 with a season-high 27 points. Chandler was only 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, meaning his attacks at the basket led to a 12-for-14 mark on 2-pointers.
It was another disappointing game for the Buffs defensively, as Tennessee finished with a .475 shooting percentage overall despite going just 6-for-24 on 3-pointers. Offensively, the Buffs weren’t much better. CU committed 12 of its 15 turnovers in the first half, leading to a telling 21-8 edge for the Volunteers on points off turnovers. CU hit its first two 3-point attempts of the game but went 2-for-15 the rest of the way. The Buffs’ overall shooting mark of .345 was a season-low.
“We tried everything (on defense),” CU senior forward Evan Battey said. “We tried going under. We tried switching. We tried blocking. We’ve just got to do a better job. I’ve got to do a better job in making sure my team knows all the coverages, making sure we’re gapped up. It’s all internal for me.”
Tennessee led 34-24 at halftime and pushed the advantage to 11 points early in the second half before the Buffs began chipping away. On three occasions CU cut the Tennessee lead to five points, including once on a drive down the lane by KJ Simpson that the freshman guard finished with a resounding dunk in traffic.
Each time, however, the Volunteers responded. Tennessee answered that final five-point deficit with eight consecutive points, forcing the Buffs into scramble mode the rest of the way with less than seven minutes remaining.
“We did some good things on defense, but obviously the high ball screen coverage, it was the difference in the game on defense,” Boyle said. “We had 15 turnovers and we have eight shots that are blocked. That’s 23 times we had the ball that it doesn’t get to the rim. At least if it gets to the rim we have an opportunity at an offensive rebound. It has a chance to go in. But 23 times it doesn’t get to the rim.”
What went right: Not much. But the Buffs did commit only three turnovers in the second half and outrebounded Tennessee 37-34.
What went wrong: CU committed 12 of its 15 turnovers in the first half and finished just 4-for-17 on 3-pointers.
Star of the game: Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler. No CU player threatened the Vols’ freshman guard for this honor, as Chandler went 13-for-20 with 27 points, three rebounds and two assists.
What’s next: CU’s five-game homestand continues on Wednesday against Eastern Washington (6 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
No. 13 Tennessee 69, Colorado 54
TENNESSEE (6-1)Fulkerson 4-10 2-2 10, Nkamhoua 1-5 1-3 3, Bailey 0-0 0-0 0, Chandler 13-20 0-2 27, Vescovi 5-5 0-0 13, Powell 1-8 2-2 5, James 2-3 0-0 5, Zeigler 1-6 0-0 2, Huntley-Hatfield 0-2 0-0 0, Plavsic 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 29-61 5-9 69.
COLORADO (6-3)Battey 4-11 4-7 12, Walker 3-9 3-4 10, da Silva 4-7 1-2 11, Barthelemy 2-13 0-0 4, Parquet 2-3 0-0 4, Simpson 2-8 3-4 7, Hammond 1-2 0-1 3, Clifford 0-1 0-0 0, Lovering 0-0 0-0 0, O’Brien 1-1 1-1 3. Totals 19-55 12-19 54.
Halftime — Tennessee 34-24. 3-point goals — Tennessee 6-24 (Vescovi 3-3, James 1-2, Chandler 1-6, Powell 1-6, Huntley-Hatfield 0-1, Nkamhoua 0-2, Zeigler 0-4), Colorado 4-17 (da Silva 2-2, Hammond 1-1, Walker 1-4, Battey 0-1, Clifford 0-1, Parquet 0-1, Simpson 0-2, Barthelemy 0-5). Rebounds — Tennessee 34 (James 9), Colorado 37 (Barthelemy 9). Assists — Tennessee 11 (Zeigler 3), Colorado 10 (Barthelemy 4). Total fouls — Tennessee 19, Colorado 13. A — 8,688 (11,064).