Tad Boyle‘s Colorado Buffaloes issued a national statement Saturday.
The Buffs unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers, played stifling defense and rolled to a 96-73 win over Big East champion Georgetown in their NCAA Tournament opener at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
The fifth-seeded Buffs improved to 23-8 while the No. 12 Hoyas ended their season at 13-13.
The Buffs drained 16 3-pointers in the win, their best ever in an NCAA Tournament game, and finished with 27 assists on 34 baskets.
Freshman Jabari Walker led CU with a career-high 24 points that included a 5-for-5 day from 3-point range (9-for-10 overall). D’Shawn Schwartz added 18 points and also had five 3-pointers on 6-for-8 shooting, McKinley Wright IV recorded a 12-point, 13-assist double-double and Eli Parquet chipped in 10 points.
Qudus Wahab led the Hoyas with 20 points.
Both Walker and Schwartz surpassed CU’s previous NCAA record of four 3-pointers, while Wright — who did not have a turnover — recorded his fourth double-double of the season and 15th of his career. Wright also led the Buffs with five rebounds.
Defensively, the Buffs were equally dominant, holding Georgetown under 35 percent shooting for much of the game.
Colorado took control with a 10-0 run early in the first half to take a 17-7 lead, then continued to pour it on to take a 47-23 lead into intermission. The Buffs built their lead to as much as 30 early in the second half before Georgetown briefly cut the margin to 18. CU, though, rebuilt the lead to 30 with under five minutes to play and cruised to the win down the stretch.
The victory, coming in Colorado’s fifth NCAA appearance under Boyle, was CU’s first NCAA win since 2012.
“Great first game,” Boyle said. “We lost our poise a couple of times in that second half, but we regained it, and credit to our seniors and our players for playing with poise because we talked about that the second half. Play with confidence, play with poise and play with aggressiveness, and I thought we did that for the most part for 40 minutes.”
The Buffs no doubt were aware of the storyline surrounding Georgetown and Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing. Despite CU being a No. 5 seed, many national media pundits had picked the Hoyas to win.
The Buffs believed they had something to prove.
“Everybody had us losing this game,” Walker said. “We met yesterday as a team and talked about how there was really no pressure. We’re the underdog, nobody has us winning. It was just going in with the underdog mindset and trying to prove everybody wrong. It’s us versus everybody.”
HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado put together arguably its best half of the season in racing to a 47-23 halftime lead, draining 11 3-pointers in the first period.
Walker led the onslaught, hitting all four of his 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes, including one in an early 10-0 CU run that gave the Buffs a 17-7 lead eight minutes into the game. That set the tone for the game, and the Buffs kept up the pressure the rest of the half.
D’Shawn Schwartz also had four 3-pointers in the first half as the Buffs shot 11-for-17 from long range in the period. Colorado recorded an amazing 15 assists on 16 first-half baskets, with Wright recording eight.
“You could tell Georgetown’s defensive game plan, or at least part of it, was when McKinley came off ball screens to really make him play in a crowd and not let him score the ball,” Boyle said. “When that’s happened before at times this year McKinley has gotten frustrated. Tonight he didn’t. He just took what the defense gave him. It’s as good as he’s done all year long with his reads on the ball screen consistently.”
CU’s defense, meanwhile, stymied the Hoyas the entire first half. Colorado held Georgetown to 8-for-26 shooting, including just 1-for-9 from long range. The Buffs also forced six Georgetown turnovers to produce eight Colorado points.
If the Hoyas had any hopes of a second-half comeback, the Buffs dashed them quickly. Colorado pushed its cushion to 30 early in the period when Walker drained a 3-pointer and Wright converted a conventional 3-point play for a 57-27 lead less than four minutes in.
Georgetown did make a slight charge midway through the period, pulling to within 18. But Colorado answered one more time to bump the lead back to 30, 82-52, on a Wright bucket with 6:45 to play.
CU then coasted to the win down the stretch.
The victory came on the heels of last weekend’s disappointing loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 title game.
“One of the things we did in the Pac-12 championship, we were too tense,” Walker said. “We put too much pressure on ourselves. Just let all that go, lock in and play free … We just focused on our group and what we can control. All our guys believed if we were playing at our best, not too many teams in this country could beat us. We can guard, we have the most versatile guys, we can score in so many different ways — we’re a dangerous team.”
TURNING POINT: A 10-0 Colorado run early in the first half gave the Buffs a 17-7 lead and the Buffs were in control for the rest of the game.
WHAT IT MEANS: CU earned its second NCAA first-round win in the Boyle era and only the third first-round win since 1963.
KEY STATISTICS: The Buffs shot 16-for-25 from 3-point range while holding Georgetown to 8-for-25 from beyond the arc … Colorado had 27 assists on 34 baskets … CU’s reserves outscored their Hoyas counterparts 41-8.
QUOTEWORTHY: “We have been a resilient team all year long … We’ve got to keep being loose, but understand the game plan, and enjoy the moment and let it all hang out. Pin your ears back and let’s go have some fun, and when adversity hits, let’s fight through it together.” — CU coach Tad Boyle
NEXT UP: The Buffs will meet No. 4 seed Florida State in a second-round game Monday. The Seminoles advanced by defeating UNC Greensboro, 64-54, on Saturday.