- Jason King
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Overview: While it may be too early to declare that the Pac-12 is back, it’s safe to say the Colorado Buffaloes certainly are. Tad Boyle’s squad capped off what could be a season-changing road trip by defeating Murray State 81-74 in the championship game of the Charleston Classic.
Beating a quality team like the Racers would’ve been impressive on its own. Murray State went 31-2 last season and touts a preseason All-American in point guard Isaiah Canaan. But pair the victory with Friday’s upset of No. 16 Baylor, and it’s easy to see why the Buffaloes have a legitimate chance to break into the Top 25 rankings for the first time since the 2005-06 season, when they spent two weeks in the ESPN/USA Today poll.
Turning point: Murray State shaved Colorado’s eight-point lead to three on a Dexter Fields 3-pointer that made it 68-65 with 1:56 remaining. But just as he did all weekend, Colorado’s Askia Booker came up huge on Colorado’s next possession by connecting on a jumper that extended the Buffaloes’ cushion to 70-65. Canaan missed a 3-pointer on the other end moments later, and Colorado’s Sabatino Chen grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Chen swished both free throws to make it 72-65. Murray State never threatened again.
Why Colorado won: Defense. Two days after limiting Baylor stars Pierre Jackson and Isaiah Austin to 20 points on 6-of-23 shooting, Colorado clamped down on another dynamic duo Sunday night. Canaan and backcourt mate Stacy Wilson entered the game averaging a collective 37 points. They combined for 29 against Colorado -- but the twosome went just 11-of-32 from the field. Wilson, who averaged 20.7 points in his first three games, netted only eight on Sunday, when he missed all but three of his 13 field goal attempts. Credit Booker and guard Spencer Dinwiddie for Colorado’s outstanding defensive effort on the perimeter. They forced Canaan and Wilson into some ill-advised shots. Heck, two of Canaan’s makes came from five feet beyond the 3-point line.
Why Murray State lost: Let’s not forget, this is a very young and inexperienced Murray State team. The Racers lost three key pieces (Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long) from last season’s 31-2 team. Other than Canaan and forward Ed Daniel, most of the Racers have never been asked to contribute as significantly as they are right now. Murray State is still trying to figure things out and develop the chemistry and cohesion that was so important to their success last season.
Star of the game: Colorado’s Andre Roberson entered the season with a ton of hype after averaging a double-double as a sophomore last year. But at the Charleston Classic it was Askia Booker who stole the show. The guard scored 58 points in three games to earn tournament MVP honors. Booker’s best performance came in Sunday’s title game, when he finished with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Honorable mention goes to Dinwiddie for his lockdown defensive play.
What it means for Colorado: Quality nonconference wins over schools such as Dayton, Baylor and Murray State will go a long way on Selection Sunday. If Colorado finishes in the upper half of the Pac-12, I’d feel confident in their chances of earning a bid -- as long as they don’t screw things up in the next four or five weeks. The Buffaloes still have tough non-league games against Colorado State and Kansas. Whatever the case, this is clearly a well-coached, disciplined team that has a nice chemistry. The Buffaloes aren’t going to beat themselves, and rarely will they be outhustled. I’ll be shocked if they finish any lower than fourth in the Pac-12.
What it means for Murray State: Last season, Murray State’s nonconference (résumé included victories over Memphis and Southern Miss. A victory in Sunday’s game would’ve likely been the Racers’ signature win of the nonconference season. Instead they leave Charleston with wins over two teams (Auburn and St. John’s) expected to finish in the lower half of their respective conferences. Murray State still has non-league games remaining against Valparaiso and Dayton.
More observations: Colorado is 4-0 for the first time since 1998-99, and the tournament title was its first in-season championship since winning the Pepsi Classic in 2002 in Charlotte ... Depth could be an issue for the Buffaloes, as all five starters played 31 minutes or more ... Two days after going 4-of-18 from the foul stripe in a 70-68 win over Baylor, the Buffaloes bounced back and made 27 of 36 free throws (75 percent) on Sunday ... Canaan missed eight of his 11 attempts from 3-point range.
What’s next: Murray State hosts Old Dominion Saturday. Colorado hosts Air Force on Sunday.