After a tight, back-and-forth barn burner at the CU Events Center on Sunday, Jan. 22, the Colorado Buffaloes finally beat the Washington State Cougars, 58-55. With only five seconds left, the score was tied at 55-55, until sophomore guard KJ Simpson hit a three pointer to seal the win for the Buffs.
Off the back of three straight losses, this win at home keeps confidence alive for the 12-9 Colorado team. The Buffaloes are currently eighth in the Pac-12 standings at 4-6, though they have won nine of their 11 home games in Boulder.
“Our team really deserved that win — after all the disappointment and frustrations we’ve experienced over the last three to four weeks.” said head coach Tad Boyle. “[They] battled and scratched and clawed and were rewarded for it. As a coach, I’m happy for our players and that they believed in themselves.”
At the beginning of the game, Colorado started with five quick turnovers, an issue they have seen often during the season. The Buffs also struggled to rebound the ball and saw themselves down 9-19 at one point. Though the Cougars only shot 37% in the first half, they found ways to capitalize off the Buffs’ mistakes.
Then, Colorado eventually found a groove, following 14 points on perfect shooting by Tristan da Silva. After holding Washington State scoreless for the last five minutes of the first half, the Buffs finished on a 13-2 run, bringing the score up to 26-25.
“I’m a player that lets the game come to him,” da Silva said. “I just tried to get as many easy shots as I can.”
During the second half, neither team seemed to be able to take control. The lead swapped back and forth, as turnovers and messy possessions plagued both teams. With 13 and 11 points respectively, da Silva and Simpson kept Colorado alive in the second half, playing a two-man game that Washington State could not manage to stop.
With 26 seconds left, the game was tied 55-55. As the clock counted down, the Buffs took possession of the ball, as the crowd to cheered louder and louder.
Then, Simpson took the lead, as he has often done during crucial moments for the Buffaloes throughout the season. Over the outstretched arm of a Cougar defender, he knocked down a deep three pointer.
With only five seconds left, a Cougar player rushed up the court to attempt a game-tying shot. However, he missed, leaving the Buffs secure in their win.
“We had multiple looks, depending on their defense and [the way] they were guarding,” Simpson said. “We wanted to attack kind of later down in the clock. It didn’t happen exactly [as planned], but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do sometimes.”
“The thing I love about KJ is that there’s no fear in his heart,” Boyle said. “He’s not afraid of the moment. He’s not afraid of competition. He’s not afraid of anybody. I appreciate and respect him for that.”
Despite Simpson’s game winning shot, da Silva led the stat sheet for the Buffs on Sunday night. The junior finished with 27 points on 11/13 shooting, making his first nine shots. Simpson still met most of his season averages, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and that remarkable final shot. Throughout the game, both showed that they can shoulder the offensive load for the team when needed.
“We had to set the tone,” Simpson said. “We have to set the example. We can’t let the game get so far apart from us. We know during crunch time like that we have to step up. It’s just a testament to our hard work and being ready for the moment.”
For most of the team, it was a difficult shooting night. Overall, the Buffs scored their lowest number of points in a win all season with 58. Besides da Silva and Simpson, only three other players managed to score: J’Vonne Hadley with nine; Julian Hammond with five; and Jalen Gabbidon with one point from a free throw. Along with their offensive additions, the three combined for 11 crucial rebounds that helped Colorado stay alive in the second half.
Despite Luke O’Brien and Lawson Lovering not scoring, Colorado’s tall men proved to be important pieces down the stretch. O’Brien collected six rebounds and a steal, while also setting the final screen that would leave Simpson open for the final shot. Lovering’s 7’1″ frame blocked offensive plays by the Cougars several times during the game.
“We needed Lawson in there because he makes it tough on guys by clogging the middle [to help] our defense,” Boyle said. “Offensively, he’s still a work in progress, but he’s a willing passer, and he’s a capable free throw shooter.”
Though they ended up on top by the final whistle, the Buffaloes had nowhere near their best performance of the season. They matched WSU with 17 turnovers, only made two of their seven three pointers and only shot 60% from the free throw line.
However, the Buffs did shoot 50% from the field, a mark that they have only hit a few times this season, all in wins. Overall, they played well enough to pull out the win they so desperately needed.
After splitting their two games in Boulder, the Buffaloes will go back on the road this week as they travel to Oregon. Their next game will be against the Oregon Ducks at 7 p.m. MST on Thursday, Jan. 26 at the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. Then, they’ll take on the Oregon State Beavers at the Gill Coliseum in Corvallis at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 28.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Eli Gregorski at firstname.lastname@example.org.