In its last non-conference game of the 2016-17, Colorado needed to make a statement after the lackluster manner in which the rest of its season had been going up that point. The Buffaloes’ Thursday night game against Eastern Washington was no different as they went on to narrowly win, 76-68.

“It was a good win, especially given how we started the game and fell down 17, 19-2, which is not something I was certainly planning on, but we beat a good Eastern Washington team, a team that’s really hard to play against. I thought they were terrific,” coach Tad Boyle said.

All season long, the Buffs (10-3)—who under Tad Boyle have generally been proficient on defense and rebounding—have struggled to put the pressure on their opponents.

That trend resonated throughout much of the first half as the Buffs took nearly eight minutes to put a shot in the basket and the Eagles (8-5) quickly garnered a double-digit lead.

“We just got to be consistent,” senior guard Derrick White said. “That’s been the theme of our season—we’re up and down and we have good stretches, and then we’ll have a stretch like in the beginning. Consistency would be huge for us, and in league play it’s going to be really important.”

During that time, EWU’s Bogdan Bliznyuk terrorized the Buffaloes as he amassed 21 points by the break. After some defensive adjustments by Boyle at the start of the second half, CU managed to keep him at just four points the rest of the night.

Per the usual, White had himself a game. The team-first point guard shined as he paced the offense with 17 points, seven assists, four blocks, and five rebounds to his name. His efforts were complimented by those of Josh Fortune (13 points), Wes Gordon (11), and Xavier Johnson (10). Gordon added 10 rebounds to earn his second double-double of the year.

For the night, the Buffs finished with 45 percent from the floor, besting the Eagles’ 38 percent but they only won the board battle by two, 38 to 36.

Throughout much of the first half, the Buffs couldn’t get the ball rolling on offense and they couldn’t stop the dribble on defense. They seemed to come out of the gate completely resigned and not putting in enough effort, if any.

The Eagles didn’t take long to capitalize on that.

Six minutes into the game, the Buffs went down 13-1 as the Eagles—read, Bliznyuk—hit every chance they were given to shove the Buffs deeper and deeper into the hurt locker.

“We came out super slow and our bench players gave us a big spark when we needed it and helped a lot,” Fortune said.

By the 12:44 mark, the Eagles led 19-2, with only four points coming from players not named Bliznyuk. Twenty-five seconds later, Deleon Brown nailed the first bucket of the night for CU with a nothing-but-net three to ease the pain ever so slightly.

“We missed a lot of easy ones to start,” White said. “I feel like offensively, we had a lot of great looks. We just missed, but defensively we didn’t come ready to play.”

But the worst was over for the embattled home boys, who spent the rest of half clawing and kicking their way back into the game. After going down by 17 with roughly 13 minutes remaining, the Buffaloes staged a comeback their comeback.

At the half, the Buffs trailed 35-32.

Of EWU’s 35 points, Bliznyuk accounted for 21 as he surpassed his season average of 20.6. That was apt to change in the second half.

After the break, the Buffs rediscovered their Christmas spirit as they doubled down on defense and turned to the tides on their offense, letting it ebb and flow more fluidly.

Two and a half minutes in, Fortune and White came alive as they aided and abetted each other’s back-to-back buckets to tie the game for the first time all night at 37 and subsequently helped CU gain its first lead, 40-37.

After the two teams exchanged blows for a while, the Buffs rediscovered their offensive identity and started going off. They gained as much as a 12-point lead, 70-58, with four minutes left to play after a 17-3 scoring tangent.

No matter how hard the Eagles clawed and scratched, they just couldn’t find their wings again after the Buffs began their stampede. By the end of it all, Colorado sealed the deal with a 76-68.

The Buffs will take the next week and a half off to get their ducks in a row before they head to Utah on Sunday, Jan. 1 at 4:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

“We’re getting closer (to where we want to be),” Boyle said. “It’s just we’re in spurts, we’re in certain areas. Again, sometimes we haven’t had all guys playing well on one particular night. Now, we’re 10-3, and one of the reasons we’re 10-3 is because we have good balance.”