BOULDER, Colo. – The projectile that glanced off Ernie Kent’s noggin (he believes it was a golf ball, others saw a small bottle of liquor), and landed a fan with more zealotry than brains in hot water seemed to upset the coach less because of the superficial pain it caused, and more because it marred what had been perhaps his team’s most spirited performance of the season.
Even if it came in a loss.
An undermanned Colorado team outlasted Washington State in the thin mountain air; finally ending the game at the end of two overtimes with an 88-81 Buffaloes win.
“I thought it was an incredible college basketball game,” Kent said.
The Buffaloes, who were without all-conference center Josh Scott (16.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per game) averted a loss that would have been a critical blow to their NCAA tournament hopes against the team with the worst RPI left on the their schedule.
A win would have spared this WSU team (9-15, 1-11 Pac-12) from becoming the first to lose 10 consecutive games since the 2002-03 team fell short in 14 consecutive contests.
The heroes and culprits that emerge in a college basketball game that spans 50 minutes are too many for any one to be definitive.
“I think it’s a testament about how good this league is,” said CU coach Tad Boyle. “You’ve got a guy like Que Johnson, who hasn’t done a whole lot, comes in and scores (a career-high) 25.”
Individual players for both CU (18-7, 7-5) and WSU scored more on Thursday night than they had all season, and a few previously unheralded pieces came through with big performances while filling in for injured teammates.
The game was played in front of 7,330 fans who expressed an unusual amount of distaste for the officiating considering CU’s 40-19 advantage in free throws attempted.
The Cougars seemed to have the game won near the end of the first overtime. Johnson hit a free throw to put the Cougars up by three points with 10 seconds left, but missed a second that would have iced the game.
Instead of fouling and forcing the Buffaloes to try and make three points out of two free throws, the Cougars gave up a last-second, heavily-contested fade-away 3-pointer to George King. He swished it.
“That’s on us, as a staff, because we talked about that, “ Kent said. “Everybody thought Que was going to make the free throw and put us up four and we talked about not fouling, and yet Josh (Hawkinson) was all over that guy. 6-foot-10 guy hanging on you, you’re fading out of bounds. My hat’s off to you. Heck of a shot.”
King’s shot effectively knocked out the tired Cougars – CU scored the final six points of the second overtime against the gassed visitors – and overshadowed some commendable performances by WSU players thrust into bigger roles.
Brett Boese, a Shadle Park graduate, scored a season-high 13 points off the bench to keep the Cougars close throughout the game.
Ny Redding scored seven points in relief of Charles Callison, who missed the game with a concussion, and grabbed two key rebounds during the first overtime.
“I thought it was the best point guard play that I’ve had in my program since I’ve been here,” Kent said. “That’s nothing away from Ike (Iroegbu) but the point guard leadership was tremendous.”
CU nearly expelled any notions of a competitive game with their initial run, which began 1:41 into the game when George King drained a 3-pointer, accounting for the first three of nine unanswered points by the Buffaloes.
The listless Cougars turned the ball over three times in four possessions – the other possession ended with a shot that hit nothing before it hit the ground.
But WSU came back to take a three-point lead with five minutes left in regulation thanks to Johnson’s willingness to attack the basket, Boese’s sharpshooting and Hawkinson, who missed last game with a foot injury yet played 45 minutes on Thursday, scoring 18 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
“All they do is continue to come back and in this day and age, where people have such an entitlement issue, they continue to battle back,” Kent said. “And they made it an incredible game. This is a very difficult place to play and they played extremely hard. It was a tough game, but it was a growing game for us.”
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