McKinley Wright IV was a difference-maker once again for Colorado, which will square off against Mercer on Sunday in the championship game of Paradise Jam in Lynchburg, Va. Wright scored 21 points and dished out nine assists as the Buffaloes withstood a late charge from Drake before posting an 86-81 victory in the semifinals to set up the meeting with the Bears.
Unlike in the opening-round game, when Wright needed to make a 3-pointer as time expired to allow them to advance, the Buffaloes never trailed against Drake, which got within one point on two occasions before Wright answered. The freshman from Minnesota hit a jumper and then made a three-point play to help extend Colorado’s lead before eventually fouling out with 2:23 remaining. “I thought our guys, for a very quick turnaround, to take that game plan, did a great job,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle told reporters. “Last night, we didn’t panic when we were down, and we didn’t panic when we were up and (Drake) made a run.” Senior guard Ria’n Holland just missed recording his third career 30-point performance, settling for 29 as the Bears advanced to the championship game with a comfortable 78-59 victory over Drexel.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, No TV.
ABOUT COLORADO (4-0): Namon Wright, a junior transfer from Missouri, improved his scoring for the fourth straight game as he netted 19 points - including nine from the free-throw line. “He’s a big, strong guy with a scoring mentality,” Boyle told reporters regarding Wright. George King contributed another workmanlike effort down low with 14 points and seven rebounds while Tory Miller-Stewart, whose nine rebounds were pivotal in the opening-round win, scored 11 points.
ABOUT MERCER (4-1): Stephon Jelks recorded his first double-double of the season with 17 points and 12 rebounds against Drexel and may be regaining the form he enjoyed during a solid sophomore campaign in which he registered 10 such performances. The senior forward finished with only two double-doubles last season and saw his scoring, rebounding and shooting numbers fall from the previous campaign. Demetre Rivers, a 6-8 senior guard, scored 12 points and has now reached double figures in four straight games - one off his career best for the Bears of the Southern Conference.
1. Buffaloes sophomore F Lucas Siewert suffered an ankle injury in the second half and his status for the championship game is questionable.
2. Colorado, which is 19-for-71 from 3-point range on the season, has opened at 4-0 for the first time since 2012-13 - the same year it won the Charleston Classic.
3. The Buffaloes have won both of their previous two meetings with the Bears, including a 117-74 victory in the most-recent matchup in 2005.
PREDICTION: Colorado 81, Mercer 77