Sports Journalism Blog

By Jaela Johnson | @jae_jamirah

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS— Tad Boyle, the coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, watched his team trade baskets with the Florida Gators at such a rapid rate that with 20 minutes left in one of their seasons, he had this thought: “’If we don’t start guarding better, we’ve got to score 100 to win tonight,’ and we needed 102,” Boyle said. “Actually we only needed 101 but we got 102.”

The last basket, a shot by junior guard KJ Simpson from the right baseline just beyond the reach of Florida guard Zyon Pullin, touched the rim five times before it slipped through the net with two seconds to go in Colorado’s 102-100 victory. When a heave by Florida junior guard Walter Clayton Jr. missed at the other end – one of his few misses in the final frantic minutes — Colorado barely survived a Florida comeback that had overcome a 13-point deficit with just 4:28 to play.

Colorado (26-10) added to its school record for victories that was set two nights earlier in its First Four win over Boise State. The 10th-seeded Buffaloes, who advanced to a second-round game for the second time in the last four tournaments and the fourth since 1997, will meet second-seeded Marquette on Sunday. Colorado will play for its first spot in a regional semifinal game since 1969.

The game marked the 21st time in NCAA tournament history that two teams scored at least 100 points, and the first since West Virginia’s 111-105 double-overtime, second-round victory over Wake Forest in 2005. The last time two teams reached 100 points in regulation time was a UAB 102-100 first-round victory over Washington in 2004.

Colorado’s victory meant that for the 12th time in the 13 tournaments since the introduction of a 68-team field, a First Four winner reached the round of 32.

Simpson led the Buffaloes with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with five assists. Senior center Eddie Lampkin Jr. scored 21 points with six rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Tristan da Silva scored 17 on 7-of-10 shooting. Senior guard J’Vonne Hadley scored 16 with six rebounds.

Florida (24-12) was led by Clayton’s 33 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including a remarkable sequence in the final minutes that nearly extended the Gator season.

The Buffaloes were faced with the challenge of the 18th fastest tempo team in the Gators, and great defensive production that will translate into offense was a key point of emphasis going into this evening’s game. “At the end of the day it comes down to defense and rebounding,” Hadley said. The game quickly turned into a game of trading baskets, a lack of defensive discipline on the boards, and a series of challenges for the officials.

Florida’s bench produced 16 points in the first half, and the Gators led by as much as 10 points with 12:33 to go in the half. Colorado did not back down, staying in the game by attacking the basket and drawing fouls. The Gators had 24 paint points in the half, 60.7% shooting, and worked hard the last 5 minutes of the half with great energy from Lampkin leading the way. The Buffaloes closed the half with a spark of aggression from Simpson drilling a step-back jump shot outside the paint.

The momentum Simpson and Lampkin ended the first half with drove the team’s energy for the second half of play. They came out with intense defensive pressure and showed a 2-3 zone that stunted the Gators’ offensive flow. Clayton subbed into the game with 5:23 on the clock and lifted the Gators back into the game.

Clayton scored 18 points within a stunning stretch of 4:17 that included a 3-point shot with 37 seconds to play to bring Florida within three points. With 14.7 seconds to go, Colorado freshman Cody Williams was fouled and missed his first free throw but made the second to extend the lead to 100-97. Clayton caught the ball up the floor and smacked a contested 3-point in the face of Simpson to tie the game, 100-100.

“They run good action for him,” Boyle said. “He’s got great balance in his shot. He’s one of those guys that’s better in person than when you watch him on film.”

Colorado called timeout with 6.1 seconds to go. “We always go through preparation, time and score situations like that in practice,” Simpson said. “It was just another one of those times where we had to execute….There was multiple actions out of it, happened to break free and was just looking to drive, create something, whatever was the best play, and noticed the defender got a little bit off balance. And that’s a shot I shoot a bunch of times.”

But not like this one, the shot that extended a season.

“This team knows how to win in different ways,” Boyle said, “and we just proved that over the last two games.”