On a cold Thursday night before finals, the 4-5 Colorado Buffaloes dismantled the 6-3 CSU Rams, beating them 93-65. The game was the 130th matchup between the in-state rivals and the first since 2019. CU had 92 total wins compared to only 38 wins for the Rams. It was also the largest margin of victory in the rivalry in 77 years since the Buffaloes won by 33 points in 1945.
After losing back-to-back games against Arizona State and Washington, the Buffaloes bounced back in what was one of their most important games of the season. K.J. Simpson set the tone for Colorado on the offensive end, as he finished the game with 28 points while shooting 5 for 8 from outside the arc. Three other Buffs also scored double-digit points, as Tristan da Silva had 15, Nique Clifford had 13 and Luke O’Brien had 10. J’Vonne Hadley also had a great all-around game finishing with nine points, nine rebounds, and three assists.
“We showed tonight how good this team can be,” said Head Coach Tad Boyle. “I respect Colorado State and they have really good players. Our defense intensity and energy level tonight was really good from our first unit to our second unit and everybody that played the game.”
The game started off slow, as both teams seemed to be distracted by the nearly sold-out crowd at the CU Events Center.
Tristan da Silva opened up the scoring for Colorado, as he hit two three-pointers to give the Buffs an early advantage. CU also benefited from what was their best defensive effort of the season. Right as the game started, Colorado put pressure on the smaller, less physical Rams team. By forcing 4 early turnovers, along with a few offensive fouls, the Buffs got the message across that they weren’t going to allow any easy baskets.
As the first half went on, CSU stayed out of the paint and effectively hit 3-pointers to keep the game competitive. Colorado continued to force turnovers but struggled to convert those opportunities into points in the first half. With about eight minutes left, J’Vonne Hadley threw down a big dunk for the Buffs, which started a run of Colorado hitting eight of their next 11 field goals.
As the first half wrapped up, the more effective shooting CSU team looked a little frazzled, as the bigger and more physical Buffs took a 38-30 lead going into halftime. Colorado was shooting only three of 14 from the 3-point line, compared to six of eight for the Rams. With only half the amount of turnovers, seven steals as a team and a +7 rebounding advantage, CU’s halftime lead was the biggest of the game by either team.
“I knew it was going to be a battle; it was for the first 16 minutes and then I told them, if we needed to get them down then we’ve got to step on the throat, and we did that tonight both offensively and defensively,” said Boyle.
The Buffaloes continued right where they left off as the second half began, forcing two early turnovers and converting them both into points. Thanks to da Silva and Simpson hitting a few big shots, Colorado went on a 15-6 run to open the half, going up 53-36 in the opening five minutes. With great defensive pressure in the paint from J’Vonne Hadley, Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien, the Buffs were quickly able to take over both ends of the court by forcing tough shots on one end and finishing easy ones on the other.
With 14:27 left in the game, Colorado’s new football coach Deion Sanders entered the arena. With a roar of the crowd perhaps louder than any heard all game, Sanders’s presence seemed to only fuel the Buffs to take home the rivalry game win.
After the match, Nique Clifford commented on the coach’s entrance.
“He made an entrance for sure,” said Clifford. “It’s real special to have him here at our school. I think he’s going to help put some more respect on CU as a program. We’re definitely lucky to have him as our new football head coach.”
After Sanders was cheerfully greeted by the 10,000 fans, the basketball game continued. However, with the Events Center at its loudest all night, along with the support of the only athlete to play in a Super Bowl and World Series, the Colorado State Rams looked nearly lifeless.
With 10 minutes left, CU was up by 20 points and every player who had gone into the game had scored at least two points. Even with a 20-point lead, CU continued to force Ram turnovers and convert them into points, as K.J. Simpson hit two deep 3-pointers with eight minutes left to all but seal the deal.
“We’ve been losing close games, and it’s usually because of the run that the other team goes on at the start of the second half,” said Simpson after the game. “At halftime, we were really focusing on [playing] 40 complete minutes of basketball. We did for the first half now let’s finish it off and start strong. That was a big focal point at halftime.”
In the game’s final minutes, three Buffaloes saw the first minutes of their college careers. Freshman Quincy Allen scored his first collegiate points with a quick dunk and layup, while freshman Armondo Miller and sophomore Cody Mains each got onto the court for the first time this season. As a team with 12 underclassmen, experience in big games like this will be crucial for the Buffs to continue to bring positive impact players off the bench.
As the final whistle blew, Colorado stood on top, winning decisively 93-65. By playing a commanding level of defense, along with a surge of offense coming in the second half, Colorado was able to dominate their in-state rivals to the north. CU finished with only eight turnovers, compared to the 18 they forced, while also scoring 54 points in the paint, against only 24 for the Rams.
Colorado also took complete control of the boards, as they had 42 total rebounds, compared to 24 collected by CSU. After a slow start, CU’s defense helped them command the game for its entirety and, along with a great offensive second half led by K.J. Simpson, CU ended the game with a massive margin of victory. They were ahead of CSU in just about every statistical category.
“I’ve always said if we’re not selling our arena, why the heck are we playing Colorado State? And our fans really showed up tonight and provided a great atmosphere, and that’s the way it should be,” said Boyle. “I think our place should be packed every night. If our team continues to play the way they’re capable of playing, we’re going to have some really fun nights in this building moving forward.”
After a pivotal win in the early stages of the season, Colorado looks to keep the same level of play going forward. The Buffaloes’ next test will come against the North Alabama Lions on Thursday, December 15, at 6:30 p.m. MST, at the CU Events Center.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Eli Gregorski at Elgr9735@colorado.edu