CONWAY, SC — Overall, the Colorado men’s basketball team is struggling with a knack for inconsistency that has led to poor defensive performance in both of its previous losses so far this season.
Individually, the Buffaloes are hoping Nique Clifford will find his game soon.
A difficult start to the season for the Colorado Springs juniors continued Thursday with a 66-63 loss to UMass in the opener of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
While most of the starting lineup sat on the bench to begin the win over national leaders Tennessee after last week’s loss at Grambling State, Clifford was the lone victim of a lineup shake against UMass when CU head coach Tad Boyle sent Jalen Gabbidon on with the regular starters on the floor to start the second half.
Starting in the latter half of last season, Clifford was one of CU’s few bright spots on offense at Grambling last week, going 7-for-12 with a career-high 15 points. However, Clifford struggles in the other three games.
Against UMass, Clifford went 0-to-5 and after spending much of last season as the Buffs’ second-leading rebounder, he finished with just one rebound. In the three non-Grambling games, Clifford has won 1-10 overall with just eight rebounds. After Thursday’s loss, he’s 2-10 on 3 points this season – after shooting 40% from long range last year – with six assists against 10 turnovers.
“That’s a good question,” Boyle said when asked how he could make Clifford work. “I think Nique has been fighting for two to three weeks now. He wasn’t at his best (Thursday). I don’t know the answer to that. I have to try to help him.
“I spoke to him after the game in Tennessee and said, ‘Hey, listen, we have faith in you.’ But at some point he has to produce. When you have 10 people and you rely on 10 people, you need those 10 people to give you what they can give you. It’s not like they have to take every shot. But they must be able to protect themselves. You need to be able to protect when you come into play. You have to be able to play for a teammate. You don’t have to earn points. But he’s been struggling with that for a while now, so it’s not just like, ‘Oh wow, Nique struggled tonight.’ He’s been fighting for a while. We gotta get it running. We must find a way. I have to do something as a coach to try and make him work.
A disappointing loss might have overlooked the game of sophomore Lawson Lovering, who had the best game of his young career.
Lovering finished his career with eight points and three assists, also adding five rebounds (four offense). Lovering finished the game 4-on-5 with two tip dunks and was particularly effective early on, knocking down his first field goal attempt and providing two assists before the first media timeout.
Lovering was booed for a technical foul for taunting after one of those tip dunks, resulting in an extra point for UMass.
The Buffs meet No. 24 Texas A&M in game one on Friday (10 a.m. MT, ESPNU) after the Aggies lost to Murray State in their first game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
It will be the first matchup between the Buffs and the Aggies since the programs left the Big 12 after the 2010-11 season. Texas A&M, now in the SEC, has won its last eight games against CU, but the Buffs could probably remember some numbers from Thursday as they quickly put together a game plan. CU shot just .342 in his loss to UMass, finishing 6-for-25 with 3-pointers. Against the A&M defense, Murray State finished 50% overall (25 to 50) with a 10-22 mark on 3-pointers.
After starting the season with three assists and four turnovers in a season-opener win over UC Riverside, CU point guard KJ Simpson has 13 assists against six turnovers in his last three games…CU’s 6-for-25 performance in 3 points against UMass lowered their 3-point percentage of the season to .294 (25 to 85) in four games.