Junior forward Dwight Powell brought the Maples Pavilion crowd to its feet twice on Wednesday night with monstrous dunks. With 2.4 seconds to play and Stanford down by two, Powell caught an inbounds pass at the three-point line, took two dribbles and soared once more for a vicious one-handed slam. It was majestic, it was stunning and it was worthy of SportsCenter’s Top Plays.
And it was too late.
The buzzer sounded and the clock hit zero with the ball still cradled in Powell’s hands below the rim, allowing Colorado (19-8, 9-6 Pac-12) to escape with the win and leaving the Cardinal (16-13, 7-9) to shake its head at yet another loss that featured a missed opportunity in the closing seconds.
“[Powell] didn’t have time,” head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. “He should’ve laid the ball up. I thought the move was great. He caught the ball where we thought he’d catch the ball. I thought he’d have a chance to go ahead and get a strong finish, but the fact that he caught it a little bit further out, he got bumped on the catch, and by the time he turned around, time was being eaten up.”
But the road to that final sequence was almost as interesting as the play itself.
The Buffaloes held the lead only once (at 2-0) in the first half thanks to some awful shooting–the Buffs started 2-13 from the field–but Stanford couldn’t really find its groove either and let Colorado climb back into the game by halftime.
A slim 32-31 lead for the Card at halftime quickly grew to 10, however, as sophomore guard Chasson Randle dropped in a three-pointer from the corner that had the small crowd into the game.
Stanford would not score for the next six minutes, going 1-8 from the field and turning the ball over twice as Colorado’s 1-2 scoring punch of Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson led an 18-5 run.
Roberson finished with a career-high 24 points, which included 16 in the second half and a deep three as the shot clock expired to pull Colorado within one point at 45-44.
Another triple and layup by Roberson helped the Buffs seize a 51-45 lead, sucking the air out of Maples.
The Cardinal, however did anything but fold, showing plenty of fight as Randle hit a three and senior Andy Brown tipped in a shot for two of his team-high 17 points.
“I thought Andy was terrific,” Dawkins said. “I thought it was one of his best games in a Cardinal uniform. I thought, all game long, he made great plays, big plays, offensive rebound putbacks, big shots for us from the field. He rebounded well. I was really proud of him, because he’s been struggling a little bit with his legs and for him to come out and play the way he did was very exciting to see.”
The game continued to teeter-totter along as neither team could shoot well enough to make any more serious runs. And the excitement continued to build thanks to some sensational individual efforts.
First it was Dinwiddie electrifying the small, but rowdy, Colorado cheering contingent with a posterizing dunk over junior Josh Huestis. But on the very next possession, Powell rose to the occasion with a put-back jam of his own.
Huestis shook off a dismal shooting night (2-12) to tip in a bucket and get Stanford back within two points with 58 seconds to play.
The Buffs appeared to have things salted things away up four with 27 seconds left, but Dinwiddie was called for a technical foul when he tapped the ball away from Powell after a made basket.
Junior guard Aaron Bright made just one of the two free throws, however.
Dawkins defended Bright and Randle, who failed to convert at the line during one-and-one with under four to play.
“Those are our best free-throw shooters, so you expect them to step up there to knock them down and unfortunately they didn’t,” Dawkins said. “I’ll go with those guys at the line every time in those situations. We had Aaron with the technical and we had Chasson with the 1-and-1, and unfortunately they didn’t go. But those guys have made big free throws all season long. They’ve made big free throws their entire career, so I’ll go down with them at the line every time.”
After Roberson went 2-2 at the line himself to boost the lead back to five with 15 seconds to play, putting Stanford back in a deep hole.
But Randle’s fourth three-pointer of the game gave the Cardinal a glimmer of hope, and a missed free-throw by Dinwiddie on the front end of a one-and-one gave Stanford the ball back with 2.4 seconds to play.
It all went for naught, however, when the buzzer sounded and the ball was not out of Powell’s hand.
The players were visibly dejected after the game.
“This one hurts bad,” Brown said. “Anytime you lose at the buzzer it’s never a good thing, but all the plays leading up to that were the cause of it, so we can’t look at it and say it was the last play’s fault, because it’s not. We built some good leads on them and our defense just didn’t hold up. I mean, we were up by 10 and then all of a sudden they cut it to two in about a minute, minute and a half. And we can’t let that happen. When we get a lead we have to keep on building on those, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Outside of Powell, Brown and Randle, who combined for 45 of the team’s 63 points, no one else was able to step up for the Card and it paid the price. Stanford shot 39 percent from the field, staying in the game in large part because thanks to 9-20 shooting from behind the arc.
The Buffs’s good shooting in the clutch, however, gave them their first ever win in Palo Alto (they’d previously been 0-4 at Maples) and allowed them complete the season sweep and avenge two blowout losses to the Card last year.
With just two games left in the regular season, Stanford’s path to make the NCAA Tournament will come at the Pac-12 Tournament, where the Cardinal will have earn the conference’s automatic qualifying bid by winning four games in four nights.
If Stanford is to replicate Colorado’s impressive run to last year’s title and automatic berth, the team will have to get over the hump and close out games down the stretch, something not lost on Brown.
“We ended up getting back in the game,” he said, “but we never should’ve been down by that many, and that ultimately led us to lose tonight.”
First up for the Cardinal, however, is a chance to build more confidence with a matchup with Utah on Saturday. Tip from Maples will be at 2 p.m.
Contact Miles Bennett-Smith at milesbs”at”stanford.edu.