CU Buffs relying on Jeriah Horne to remain a catalyst in the NCAA tournament

McKinley Wright’s decision to put off the pros set the stage for CU’s run to the NCAA tournament. Evan Battey’s continued evolution also helped the Buffs get to Indianapolis.

But CU would not be a program-high No. 5 seed without Jeriah Horne, a senior transfer whose previous pit stops were at Nebraska and Tulsa. Horne paces the Buffs in rebounding at 5.3 boards, is averaging double-digit scoring (11.4 points) like Wright and Battey, and is the team’s top 3-point shooter.

The first graduate transfer in Buffs head coach Tad Boyle’s 11-year tenure, Horne has supplied production many projected the Buffs would struggle to fill after losing forward Tyler Bey to the NBA draft.

“It’s interesting when you lose Tyler, and you add Jeriah, you might think, ‘Oh he doesn’t have the athleticism, he doesn’t have the blocked shots that Tyler had,’” Boyle said. “But he gives us some things that Tyler didn’t. And then you add (freshman forwards) Jabari (Walker) and Tristan (Da Silva) to the mix, that’s why this team is a little bit more powerful and explosive than last year’s team was.”

The 6-foot-7 Horne averaged 10.6 points and 5.0 rebounds over two seasons at Tulsa after one year at Nebraska, where he appeared in 29 games. After things didn’t work out in Lincoln, Horne found success at Tulsa, starting as a junior. With one year of eligibility left, the 22-year-old wanted to maximize his exposure and potential at a bigger Division I program.

As a grad transfer eligible to play immediately, Horne was courted by Virginia Tech, Xavier, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Georgetown, CU’s first-round NCAA opponent this Saturday.

“It was really a big leap of faith that I took to transfer, because we did have a pretty good team there (at Tulsa),” Horne said. “But ultimately I chose a situation where I was able to come in and be myself, and I gelled with each and every guy.”

Wright cited Horne’s improvement at the defensive end as one of the unsung traits of the forward’s game.

“He’s a much-improved defender from when he first got to campus until now,” Wright said. “And he’s leading our team in rebounding, he’s shooting at a high clip from three. So he’s been a great transition for us (from Bey) and a great piece to our roster.”

Translating Horne’s talents into the Buffs’ already-existing framework was easy, Boyle said, because Horne “didn’t come in with the mindset of, ‘I’m going to be the savior, or I’m going to change the world here.’”

“He was determined to come in and fit into what this team needs and he’s really given us what we need, which is another perimeter threat from the four spot, and a guy who can rebound the ball, make big shots and have a lot of confidence in himself,” Boyle said. “His teammates have a lot of confidence in him.

“If you watched our team practice, if you watched them interact off the court, you’d think that Jeriah had been with these guys (for years)…. Jeriah’s been here for less than a year, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he plays with our guys.”

Boyle is counting on the maturity of Horne and the Buffs’ core group overall in order to bounce back from the gut-punch, two-point loss to Oregon State in the championship of the Pac-12 tournament. Colorado plays No. 12 seed Georgetown on Saturday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, with the tip at 10:15 a.m. on CBS.

“This team has really bounced back this year, more than any team we’ve had,” Boyle said. “We’ve only lost back-to-back games once. So they’ve obviously shown that resiliency (even though) this past weekend in Vegas was so exhausting emotionally.”

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