By B.G. Brooks, CUBuffs.com Contributing Editor
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Coaches worry, and among the worries careening through Tad Boyle’s mind was how to prevent Dayton point guard Kevin Dillard from slicing through Colorado’s defense and either scoring in the lane or finding a teammate who would.
Sophomore Spencer Dinwiddie offered a solution – himself. And that, coupled with the unflappable shooting of fellow sophomore Askia Booker, the scary athleticism of freshman Xavier Johnson and the continued steady inside play of freshman Josh Scott, made Thursday afternoon click for the young Buffaloes in the first game of the Charleston Classic.
CU used a 16-2 second-half run to roll past Dayton 67-57 and advance to a Friday game (10:30 a.m., ESPNU) against Baylor. The Buffs were keeping fingers, toes and whatever else crossed to catch the Bears, who ousted CU last March from the NCAA Tournament’s third round. They got their wish: Baylor outlasted Boston College 84-74 to set up Friday morning’s rematch.
“We want Baylor . . . we want our revenge,” said Booker, who scored a game-best 16 points and was one of four Buffs in double figures. Johnson added 15, Scott 13 and Dinwiddie 12 – including five-of-six free throws in the final 37 seconds to keep the Flyers at bay. Andre Roberson collected 14 rebounds, but Dayton out-boarded CU 40-38, which Boyle called “not acceptable.”
Dinwiddie’s late accuracy was not an indicator of his team’s success from the free throw line. The Buffs hit only 14 of 24 and allowed the Flyers (1-1) to keep things close until a trey by Booker opened an eight-point lead (62-54) in the final 2 minutes. A long ball by Booker also ignited CU’s earlier 16-2 run, which brought the Buffs from an eight-point deficit (35-27) midway through the second half and kept them ahead for the rest of the game.
“One thing about ‘Ski,’ he’s not going to back down,” Boyle said. “He’s going to take big shots . . . they whole key with him is making sure he takes good shots. Sometimes he forces the issue a little bit, but it’s not because he’s afraid. He’s got guts; when he’s open we want him shooting. That one was big, and once he makes that first one and gets his juices flowing he’s a guy who can get hot in a hurry. There’s not a shot he doesn’t think he can’t make.”
Of course, Booker agrees: “It’s my conscience,” he said. “I don’t like to hesitate. If I feel it’s good I’m going to shoot it.”
Booker hit three of his five three-point attempts and finished 6-of-11 from the field in a team-high 38 minutes. But he got loads of help in dispatching a team that his coach respected before and after.
Boyle, who moved to 2-0 for the first time in three seasons at CU, said his respect for Flyers coach Archie Miller and Dayton’s basketball tradition made Thursday’s win gratifying: “We beat a good basketball team, a good basketball coach, a good basketball program . . . I knew we weren’t going to shake that team. They’ve got big-time resolve, but I think we do, too. If the rest of this tournament’s like that game, I think fans will get their money’s worth.”
Dayton figured on Dillard, an All-Atlantic-10 selection last season, having a second game to match this season’s first. He scored 12 points and had 10 assists in the opening win against Arkansas State. Boyle wanted the Buffs to keep Dillard out of the lane, where he can be a corkscrew going to the rim or is extremely effective dishing to teammates. “Make him beat us with jump shots,” Boyle said.
Dinwiddie believed he could do that. After the second leg of the Buffaloes’ trip here Tuesday, when he spent most of the flight studying tape of Dillard in the opener, Dinwiddie made Boyle and his staff an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Recalled Dinwiddie: “I told the coaches that if you put me on him out there on an island and told him he had to score instead of make plays for his teammates, then I was going to give him problems.”
Big problems – because Dinwiddie is 6-6, Dillard is 6-0. Dinwiddie’s size and length, said Boyle, all but enveloped Dillard, obstructing his vision and making it difficult to dish. “I think it did (cause problems),” Dinwiddie said. “What I told the team was, I watched the first Dayton game and felt Dillard was extremely talented playmaker, but not a prolific scorer. I felt like I could guard him.”
Most of that defense came in the second half. After two quick first-half fouls, Dillard went to the bench with just over 17 minutes before intermission and didn’t play again until the second half. He finished with 10 second-half points, including eight in a stretch when Dayton tied the score at 47-47.
But Dinwiddie limited him to three assists; he wasn’t close to being the set-up guy that so concerned Boyle. Also stepping up defensively, noted Boyle, was Booker on Vee Stanford, who had 18 in Dayton’s opener. Against CU, he hit four of his 11 shots and finished with a team-high 13 points.
“Booker did a great job against him,” Boyle said, adding his team’s overall defense was key. “We held them to less than 33 percent (32.8) on the defensive end and to me that’s probably why we won the game. We gave up seven layups in the first half; I don’t know about the second, but it wasn’t seven.”
When the Buffs fell behind 35-27 and the Flyers appeared to be gaining control, Booker hit a three-pointer, Johnson followed with another, then Dinwiddie buried his only trey attempt to give CU a 39-37 lead. The Buffs wouldn’t trail again.
“It’s about grinding it out,” Booker said. “There’s times when we’re going to be down, ahead, it doesn’t matter what it is. We have to stay humble and compete at a high level. Andre, Sabatino (Chen), Spencer and myself – we’re a little more seasoned than the other guys so we have to stay composed. If they see us get rattled they’re going to follow; we have to take it on and keep the team calm.”
The 6-6 Johnson got his 15 points before fouling out in the final minute. Boyle called Johnson’s output “really key off the bench . . . he’s got the body to play the game like that. He had some big-time plays in the first half, big finishes. He’s just needs to play smart and keep learning. He’s going to have to grow up in a hurry for us to be good.”
Johnson scored in a variety of ways – he was two-of-four from behind the arc, stuck in a couple of soft baseline shots and went three-of-four from the free throw line. But, “XJ” said, “I haven’t showed it all. I haven’t come off the pick and roll a lot, but I hit the open shots and attacked the rim . . . my job is to come in, create and score and get rebounds and play my butt off.”
The 6-9 Scott was surprised his classmate didn’t have at least one spectacular jam. “He’s really good, there’s no getting around it,” Scott said. “I’m surprised he didn’t dunk on a couple of people, but hey, it’s coming eventually.”
Also on the way, Boyle hopes, is a better free throw percentage. “It’s a personal thing . . . we’ll get that handled,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in our guys.”
Added Booker: “It’s a mental thing; coach isn’t going to talk about it. We have to handle that man to man. There’s only so much coach can do . . . he can help us with our defense and the other stuff, but free throw shooting is a personal thing that you have to work on when you get in the gym.”
Baylor eliminated CU 83-60 in Albuquerque, N.M., last spring. Both teams have been overhauled, but the memory of the loss lingers for some of the returning Buffs and even some who are new. “I was watching that game at home and I was irritated,” said Scott, then a high school senior in Colorado Springs.
After Dayton had been dispatched, Boyle, his staff and many of the players watched Thursday’s Baylor-BC game. At his postgame press conference, Boyle said of a possible rematch with Baylor: “I’d love to see it . . . but we’ll see what happens. I’m not going to hope or cheer against anyone, but if it’s Baylor I think it would be a great opportunity for our guys who were here last year to redeem themselves and the new guys to prove themselves.”
It’s more than a great opportunity now . . . it’s on.