Boulder, Colo. — The Colorado Buffaloes turned a snub into a spark, riding the sting of disappointment all the way to Madison Square Garden.
They’re in the Final Four, a big deal — even if it’s in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament.
Alec Burks led the way to the Big Apple, scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds as Colorado held off Kent State 81-74 on Tuesday night to advance to the semifinals.
Ignored by the NCAA selection committee, Colorado has used the oversight as motivation, routing Texas Southern and California by a combined 31 points. The Buffs had to hang on against pesky Kent State, converting 4 of 5 free throws in the final 1:13 to advance.
The Buffs (24-13) will play the winner of Alabama and Miami next Tuesday as they try to capture their first NIT crown since 1940.
“We’re showing everyone we should’ve been in the (NCAA) Tournament,” said Burks, who had an IV at halftime as he battled a bug that zapped his strength. “I feel like we’re a tough team, so we just bounced back from the disappointment.”
Justin Greene finished with 20 points for the Golden Flashes (25-12), who were playing their third straight NIT game on the road.
“We knew we were going to be on the road in every round and we just wanted to come out and play hard and be a scrappy bunch like we are,” Greene said. “Give ourselves a chance to win down the stretch.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get it done tonight.”
Colorado took control late in the second half when Marcus Relphorde converted a three-point play to make it 69-67 Buffs and Burks hit a reverse layup to extend the lead to four with 4:29 remaining.
Try as they might, the Golden Flashes couldn’t tie the game back up as the Buffaloes punched their ticket to New York. Burks dribbled out the final seconds near midcourt, setting off a celebration as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” blared over the loudspeakers.
“We’re trying to change the culture around Colorado basketball,” Burks said. “This shows it’s a bright future for everybody.
“Everyone wants to go to New York and play basketball.”
Especially when Houston — site of this year’s Final Four — was never an option, despite the fact that many analysts thought the Buffaloes deserved a spot in the 68-team field.