Colorado’s KJ Simpson says defender slipped on shot to win NCAA Tournament
Colorado’s KJ Simpson says defender slipped on shot to win NCAA Tournament

INDIANAPOLIS — What happened in the final seconds of Friday’s NCAA men’s tournament game between Colorado and Florida depends on the perspective.

At one end of the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, it looked like a stampede. On the other side, the defender fell.

What is not up for debate is how the game ended. With Florida guard Zion Poulin guarding him, Colorado’s KJ Simpson hit a baseline jumper to give Buffalo a 102-100 victory over No. 7 Florida.

The shot came with just over a second to go. The Buffaloes survived a desperate push by Florida’s Walter Clayton Jr., who hit just about everything else in the final minutes during the Gators’ furious rally.

As Simpson saw it, the space created for the final shot came with a bit of luck.

“I noticed the guard slipped a little bit,” said Simpson, who scored a team-high 23 points for the 10th-seeded Buffaloes. “I don’t think I did anything out of hand or anything. After seeing it open, it’s just a wide-open shot for me.”

However, Florida coach Todd Golden seemed to indicate that Simpson may have played with a hand — or a forearm — in creating space for his game-winner.

“I thought ZP did his job,” Golden said of Pullin. “Stayed in the right position to guard, stayed between the ball and the basket. And again, somehow Simpson just created about 7 feet of separation to deflect that shot.”

Both teams had a goal on the night. It was the first men’s tournament game since 2005 in which both teams scored 100 or more points. It was the second time in tournament history that a similar play featured a game-winner in the final 10 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The other came in 1992 when Duke and Christian Laettner defeated Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

Florida (24-12) was close to an incredible comeback. The 10-seeded Buffalo led by 13 with 4:28 left and looked set to pull off an upset in the South bracket.

Then Clayton broke free. After overcoming foul trouble early in the half, he almost single-handedly tied the Gators. He scored the final 16 points for Florida and finished with a game-high 33. After Florida made a late turnaround, Clayton hit a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to tie the game at 100, prompting a Colorado timeout.

“We went with a small lineup because we knew they were going to try to hit 3s and really pressure us off the dribble,” Buffalo coach Thad Boyle said. “We didn’t do a great job all the time.”

But Boyle and the Buffaloes still had one chance to avoid the upset and secure the upset.

Coming out of the timeout, Colorado looked to get Simpson in one-on-one isolation, with 6-foot-11 center Eddie Lampkin Jr. in the basket to return a potential rebound.

Simpson was not initially open. But freshman Cody Williams, a presumed lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, waited long enough to find Simpson, who was driving from the right, found the spot to shoot and dunked in the shot.

After Clayton’s midcourt shot landed to the right of the rim as time expired, Lampkin jumped over the photographers seated behind the baseline and climbed into the Colorado fan section behind the courtside media seat to enjoy the victory.

Colorado (26-10) advanced to face No. 2 seed Marquette (26-9) in the second round on Sunday.

Simpson and the Buffaloes didn’t care how he managed to fire Colorado into the next round. All that mattered was getting it their way.

Simpson said: “It looked good once it got out of my hands.”

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