No. 10 Colorado advances past No. 7 Florida on last-second jumper; Buffaloes to face No. 2 Marquette

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INDIANAPOLIS — In the sideline huddle on the bench, there wasn’t time for Colorado’s players to wallow in self-pity. Here they were, locked in a tie after having blown a 13-point lead to Florida in less than five minutes, and the only thing that mattered was what came next. One play with 6.1 seconds remaining to reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament. And what a play it was.

Colorado point guard KJ Simpson set a back screen, slipped out into the right corner, created space on his defender with a dribble and buried a jumper that bounced around the rim from the baseline with 1.7 seconds left to help the 10th-seeded Buffaloes escape with a scintillating 102-100 victory against No. 7 seed Florida. The game ended Friday night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse with Gators guard Walter Clayton Jr. missing a half-court heave off the backboard and with Buffaloes players wildly celebrating after one of the most entertaining games of this NCAA Tournament.

“Just a hell of a game in March,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “What else can you say?”

Both teams came into the day ranked in the top 25 nationally in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and they lived up to those marks. Florida (24-12) shot 51.5 percent from the field. Colorado (26-10) shot 63 percent. It became the first NCAA Tournament game in which both teams scored at least 100 points during regulation since No. 9 UAB defeated No. 8 Washington 102-100 in 2004.

Colorado, which had to beat Boise State two nights earlier in a First Four game just to reach the Round of 64, certainly didn’t look tired, matching Florida’s quick pace step for step. The teams entered halftime tied at 45. They traded the lead back and forth before Colorado opened up a 92-79 lead with 4:49 remaining on big man Eddie Lampkin’s free throws.

But Florida quickly chipped away to make it a one-possession game. After Colorado’s Cody Williams made one of two free throws to give the Buffaloes a 100-97 lead, Clayton Jr. — who scored a game-high 33 points — buried a pullup 3-pointer to tie the score with 9.5 seconds remaining.

“Obviously, we just got a little bit more aggressive defensively,” Florida coach Todd Golden said. “For us to cut that thing and tie it being down 13, I’m really proud of the way we responded.”

Boyle smartly chose to put the ball in the hands of his first-team All-Pac-12 point guard. Simpson set a backscreen for Lampkin, who scored 21 points, to get the team’s leading rebounder under the basket to clean up a miss. Instead, Simpson drilled a shot that Colorado guard Tristan da Silva called a “Kawhi Leonard type of game-winner,” referencing Leonard’s Game 7 buzzer-beater from the right baseline that helped the Toronto Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 and advance to the Eastern Conference finals in 2019.

“I 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,” Simpson said. “That’s a shot I shoot a bunch of times.”

It was a crushing loss for Florida, which was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in three seasons. Golden lamented that Florida had “a tough draw” by playing Colorado, citing the fact that the Buffaloes were ranked 21st in the country by KenPom, while no other 10 seed was ranked higher than 33rd.

Colorado once stood 16-9 overall and 7-7 in the Pac-12 but has since won 10 of its last 11 games. Five Buffaloes players scored in double figures Friday — Simpson, Lampkin, da Silva, J’Vonne Hadley and Luke O’Brien — marking just the second time the school had accomplished that feat in an NCAA Tournament game. Florida, which made 11 3-pointers, also had five players score in double figures.

Colorado advanced to play No. 2 seed Marquette, which turned a seven-point halftime deficit into an 87-69 victory against No. 15 Western Kentucky. The teams will play Sunday for the right to reach the Sweet 16, where the Buffaloes haven’t been since 1969. Boyle said Friday that he didn’t know anything about Marquette but would start scouting for the Golden Eagles later in the night. His team still had a few more minutes to celebrate a monumental victory.

“This was the best game I’ve been a part of for sure,” O’Brien said. “I was talking to the guys. When you play NCAA football, there’s a legacy score. And I said this is definitely No. 1. It was awesome.”

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(Photo: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA Today)

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