It looked anything but easy. The CU Buffs overcame a resilient Montana State team to get a 94-90 overtime win to open the 2021-22 season.
At first glance, it felt like the Buffs escaped disaster by getting a narrow four-point win over a Big Sky team at home. But there is a much deeper story that comes with Wednesday’s battle.
McKinley Wright IV is gone. As is Dallas Walton, D’Shawn Schwartz and Jeriah Horne.
Keeshawn Barthelemy and Elijah Parquet set the tone combining for 36 points while Evan Battey added 16 and Jabari Walker scored 14.
These are not the Buffs of last year. But these Buffs, this upstart group looking to build on a strong basketball foundation that has been established in Boulder over the last few seasons, refused to quit even when down five points late in regulation.
“Our backs were against the wall and I saw a little bit of that in Nebraska when we got punched in the face,” coach Tad Boyle said. “Our guys didn’t quit. They didn’t go away, but we just got to understand it’s a 40-minute game and there’s going to be ebbs and flows.”
Hopefully every game doesn’t provide the roller coaster ride of emotions for fans in attendance or watching on TV, but on the first night of college basketball for the season, it was fun to watch.
An apparent defensive stop turned into a nightmare scenario for the Buffs as Xavier Bishop threw up a desperation shot from near half-court as the shot clock expired. That put Montana State up three points and a couple free throws made it a 80-75 with under a minute left.
Battey pulled the Buffs to within three points after sinking a couple free throws and the Buffs caught a huge break when the Bobcats couldn’t respond from the charity stripe. Then came Parquet’s shot. Walker attacked the basket, pulling Parquet’s defender off him just enough. Walker fired the ball out to the wing where the senior down knocked down the biggest shot of a one-game season.
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“It wasn’t designed but Jabari (Walker) made a great pass and then I was just creating space on the outside,” Parquet said. “I was open so I just took the shot. I didn’t let my past threes get in my head and my teammates just told me to keep shooting.”
This team showed that it doesn’t necessarily have to keep shooting, just keep fighting. On a night where teams try to open seasons with big wins over heavy underdogs, the Buffs found themselves in a bit of a dogfight. Some may see concern with a just a fora-point over Montana State, but a lot of good can be gleaned from the win.
The contributions of those expected to step up was on point and freshman Nique Clifford, a graduate of the Vanguard School in Colorado Springs, announced his arrival by scoring 11 points off the bench, including a highlight worthy dunk that tied the game in the second half.
This CU team is young and sometimes learning how to fight its way to a win is a tough lesson for such a young team. Last night was a big step for the Buffs in terms of learning what it takes to win a college game.
“I know how important it is for game one, just to set the tone for the requirement of energy, the attitude and effort that’s required to win games,” Battey said. “That’s the cost of entry almost, that’s the price. I think now we dive into what it really takes to come out and win games.”
The challenge now will be if this team can apply those lessons moving forward.