If this was to be a springboard into next season, the lasting lesson for the Colorado men’s basketball team won’t be how to survive in the pressures of a postseason tournament atmosphere.
It will be how not to execute, and perform, as a decisive favorite at home.
CU’s season ended in stunning fashion Tuesday night at the CU Events Center, as St. Bonaventure rode a torrid shooting performance to a 76-68 win in the first round of the NIT. After winning eight of their previous 10 games and reaching the Pac-12 Conference semifinals, the upset loss instead sent the Buffs into the offseason and marked the final career game for senior forward Evan Battey.
“You’ve got to give St. Bonaventure credit. They were the better team tonight, they were the tougher team tonight, they were the better-executing team tonight,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “They were the team that didn’t want their season to end more than we did. I told our team at shoot-around today, the team that wins this game is going to be the team that does not want their season to end more.”
The Bonnies began the game hot and never really cooled down, finishing with a .527 shooting percentage overall while going 10-for-20 on 3-pointers. St. Bonaventure entered the game with a .318 3-point percentage this season and had gone just 14-for-67 from the arc over the previous four games. Yet the Bonnies became the second consecutive team to shoot 52 percent against the Buffs, and the 50 percent mark from 3-point range was the second-highest total by a CU foe this season.
St. Bonaventure’s .527 overall mark also was the best by a CU foe this season, edging the .520 mark recorded by Arizona just four days earlier in the Pac-12 semifinals.
CU led 39-36 at halftime and appeared poised to put the Bonnies away immediately after halftime. Two quick CU baskets off nifty passes — a Tristan da Silva dunk off an assist from Jabari Walker, and a short Battey bank shot off a feed from Nique Clifford—forced a St. Bonaventure timeout just 70 seconds into the second half. When play resumed, CU guard Keeshawn Barthelemy promptly knocked down a 3-pointer that gave CU a 46-36 lead.
With an extremely short rotation essentially limited to the team’s five starters, there might have been an assumption the Bonnies would wither given the long travel to altitude and the late tipoff. St. Bonaventure had other things in mind. The Bonnies quickly erased CU’s 10-point lead with a 13-2 run, scoring the final 10 points in a row.
The remainder of the half was a back-and-forth affair, and a 3-point play from da Silva tied the game at 68-68 with 2 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. Those points proved to be the final ones of CU’s 2021-22 season. St. Bonaventure shut out the Buffs the rest of the way, outscoring CU 8-0 down the stretch to seal the win and secure a second-round date at top-seeded Oklahoma.
“We weren’t ready to play tonight. Emotionally, mentally,” Battey said. “And they were. They were happy to be here. They were happy to be in the NIT and have a chance to compete and advance. Positive energy elevates every time. The team that can have positive energy throughout the game, throughout possessions, and throughout their time herein practice…that’s the team that’s going to get better. That’s the team that’s going to advance and elevate to a new level. They did that today.”
Battey scored 14 points in the final game of his decorated career, becoming the 19th CU player to reach the 1,300-point mark in his career. It was a decent night offensively for the Buffs, who shot .431 overall with 11 turnovers. But after shooting .484 during the first half, CU’s dip to .370 after the break wasn’t enough to overcome the combination of poor defense against the Bonnies’ hot shooting.
“We couldn’t get stops. And that’s a helpless feeling when you’re just trading baskets,” Boyle said. “We’re up three at halftime because our offense was good. We made shots in the first half. Guess what? The second half we had too many empty possessions, especially down the stretch.”
What went right: CU outrebounded the Bonnies 31-25 and went 11-for-12 at the free throw line.
What went wrong: The Buffs’ defense couldn’t slow St. Bonaventure, which shot .527 overall and went 10-for-20 on 3-pointers.
Star of the game: Keeshawn Barthelemy. The redshirt sophomore guard provided a timely spark in both halves, going 6-for-7 overall and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers before finishing with a team-high 15 points.
What’s next: Spring break, then the offseason.
NIT First roundSt. Bonaventure 76, Colorado 68
ST. BONAVENTURE (21-9)
Osunniyi 5-9 3-4 13, Adaway 7-13 0-0 17, Holmes 4-9 4-4 13, Lofton 6-12 1-1 15, Welch 4-9 0-0 12, Coulibaly 2-2 0-0 4, Adams 1-1 0-0 2, Ndjock-Tadjore 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-55 8-9 76.
Battey 5-9 3-3 14, Walker 2-10 2-2 6, da Silva 5-10 3-3 13, Clifford 1-7 3-4 6, Hammond 2-3 0-0 5, Barthelemy 6-7 0-0 15, Simpson 3-9 0-0 7, O’Brien 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 25-58 11-12 68.
Halftime — Colorado 39-36. 3-point field goals — St. Bonaventure 10-20 (Welch 4-8, Adaway 3-5, Lofton 2-5, Holmes 1-2), Colorado 7-25 (Barthelemy 3-4, Hammond 1-1, Clifford 1-3, Battey 1-4, Simpson 1-4, O’Brien 0-1, Walker 0-3, da Silva 0-5). Rebounds — St. Bonaventure 25 (Osunniyi 10), Colorado 31 (Walker 8). Assists — St. Bonaventure 16 (Lofton 8), Colorado 16 (da Silva 4). Total fouls — St. Bonaventure 14, Colorado 11. A — 3,791.