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KJ Simpson's buzzer-beater tops Florida, sends CU Buffs to second round

Mar. 22—Fast break

Why the Buffs won: CU shot .630 and had all five starters finish with at least 12 points and four assists apiece.

Three stars:

1. CU's KJ Simpson. Tallied the last two of his 23 points on the winning baseline jumper with 1.7 seconds remaining. Also recorded five assists and five rebounds.

2. CU's Eddie Lampkin Jr.: Lampkin won the battle in the paint, going 8-for-14 from the floor and 5-for-5 at the free throw line before finishing with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists.

3. Florida's Walter Clayton Jr.: With apologies to Tristan da Silva and his 17-point, five-assist effort, Clayton scored 33 points and very nearly single-handedly rallied the Gators to an improbable comeback win.

Up next: The 10th-seeded Buffs will face second-seeded Marquette in a second round matchup on Sunday.

INDIANAPOLIS — After 40 minutes of intense, frenetic action, with a combined 200 points on the scoreboard, it came down to one final shot.

Naturally, Colorado guard KJ Simpson took it. And, naturally, in a game riddled with drama, the ball insisted on extending that drama as long as possible, rattling off the iron and hovering in the air for what seemed an eternity.

Then it tumbled through, and an iconic shot completed an epic contest.

Simpson's baseline jumper with 1.7 seconds left gave the Buffaloes a wild 102-100 win against Florida on Friday afternoon in an NCAA Tournament first round showdown at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

CU (26-10) extended its program record for wins and will take a hot streak of 10 wins in 11 games into a second-round battle against second-seeded Marquette on Sunday.

"Can't ask for much more from a game in March than the one we just saw," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I thought both teams battled. Hats off to Florida. They played well. But man, to show the poise and composure that we did down the stretch when they made the run back at us, it was a tough, tough game.

"Just enough at the end. Great execution, great play by KJ. Every one of our players made plays. The bench was great. Just a hell of a game in March. What else can you say?"

For the first time in 14 seasons and five previous tourney appearances under Boyle, the Buffs have won two NCAA Tournament games. Thanks to the Buffaloes' designation in the First Four round, it's not quite good enough yet for that elusive Sweet 16 berth, but that's a problem for Sunday.

Two days after slugging out a 60-53 win against Boise State in the First Four, the Buffs came out on top in a track meet. During the Thursday media sessions for both teams, Florida head coach Todd Golden, apparently looking only at CU's most recent games and not noticing how the Buffs routinely hit 90 points and 20 assists early this season before injuries began piling up, professed a desire to get CU in an up-tempo game.

Much to the Gators' chagrin, the Buffs were happy to oblige.

CU set program NCAA Tournament records for scoring and field goal percentage (.630), both of which previously were set in the 2021 first-round rout of Georgetown. The Buffs also tied the team tournament record of 27 assists they posted in that Georgetown win, with all five starters recording at least four. All five starters scored in double figures as well, with Simpson leading the way with 23 points.

Simpson had the most dramatic moment, but he hardly was the only CU player who provided heroics. Eddie Lampkin Jr. entered the game with a .643 free throw percentage but went 5-for-5 at the line, finishing with 21 points and five assists. Tristan da Silva went 7-for-10 overall and 3-for-3 on 3-pointers with 17 points. J'Vonne Hadley was 9-for-11 on free throws with 16 points, while Luke O'Brien hit all five of his shots and recorded 12 points, his best scoring total in three months.

"A high-scoring game is really just another game to me," Lampkin said. "The last couple games, we've been playing more in the half-court. But coach told us they were going to try to outscore us and we had to defend. And that's what we did."

Florida led by 10 in the first half but CU battled into a 45-45 tie at halftime. The Buffs led by 13 with 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining before the Gators began chipping away.

Florida guard Walter Clayton Jr. scored his team's final 16 points, and his three-point play with 1:16 remaining trimmed a seven-point CU lead down to 97-93. Clayton then answered a Simpson drive with a 3-pointer and added a free throw after a CU turnover.

CU's Cody Williams hit one free throw with 14.7 seconds left to give CU a 100-97 lead, but Clayton answered with a 30-foot 3-pointer to tie it at 100-100 with 9 seconds left. The Buffs took a timeout with 6.1 seconds to set up Simpson's dramatic shot, but the celebration couldn't quite start until a three-quarters court heave from Clayton that appeared remarkably close fell off the mark.

Clayton's 33 points were the most by a CU foe this season. But it is the Buffs who get to continue dancing.

"I felt like I had a really good look, and it's a shot I shoot a bunch of times, have repped out a bunch of times," Simpson said. "That little rattle in and out, and to pop back up. When it popped back up I noticed that it was coming right back down. Once it hit the rim again I knew it was going in."

COLORADO (26-10)

da Silva 7-10 0-0 17, Lampkin 8-14 5-5 21, Hadley 3-7 9-11 16, O'Brien 5-5 1-1 12, Simpson 7-12 8-9 23, Williams 2-3 5-7 9, Ruffin 0-1 0-0 0, Dak 2-2 0-0 4. Totals 34-54 28-33 102.

FLORIDA (24-12)

Samuel 5-8 1-2 11, Condon 3-8 0-0 6, Clayton 10-17 9-10 33, Pullin 3-8 6-7 13, Richard 6-10 0-0 15, Haugh 2-4 1-1 6, Kugel 4-8 2-2 11, Aberdeen 2-5 0-0 5. Totals 35-68 19-22 100.

Halftime — 45-45. 3-point field goals — Colorado 6-10 (da Silva 3-3, O'Brien 1-1, Hadley 1-2, Simpson 1-4), Florida 11-25 (Clayton 4-10, Richard 3-6, Aberdeen 1-2, Haugh 1-2, Kugel 1-2, Pullin 1-2, Condon 0-1). Fouled Out — O'Brien, Condon. Rebounds — Colorado 29 (Lampkin, Hadley 6), Florida 29 (Condon 7). Assists — Colorado 27 (da Silva, Lampkin, Simpson 5), Florida 22 (Condon 6). Total Fouls — Colorado 19, Florida 23. Technicals — Florida bench.