Push-off? Buffs hero says UF defender 'slipped'

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

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

What isn’t up for debate is how the game ended. With Florida guard Zyon Pullin defending him, Colorado’s KJ Simpson rattled in a baseline jumper to give the Buffaloes a 102-100 win over 7-seed Florida.

The shot came with just over a second left. The Buffaloes survived a desperation heave from Florida’s Walter Clayton Jr., who hit almost everything else in the closing minutes during the Gators’ furious rally.

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

“I noticed the defender slipped a little bit,” said Simpson, who scored a team-high 23 points for the 10th-seeded Buffaloes. “I don’t think I did any off-arm or nothing. Once I saw it open up, that’s just a wide-open shot for me.”

Florida coach Todd Golden, however, appeared to indicate that Simpson might have played a hand — or a forearm — in creating the space for his game winner.

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

Both teams had a prolific scoring 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 such a game included a game winner in the final 10 seconds, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The other came in 1992, when Duke and Christian Laettner beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight.

Florida (24-12) came close to pulling off an improbable comeback. The 10-seed Buffaloes led by 13 with 4:28 left and seemed on their way to pulling off the upset in the South region of the bracket.

Then Clayton got loose. After dealing with foul trouble early in the half, he almost single-handedly pulled the Gators even. He scored Florida’s final 16 points and finished with a game-high 33. After Florida created a late turnover, Clayton drilled a 3-pointer with nine seconds left to tie the score at 100, which prompted a timeout from Colorado.

“We went with a small lineup because we knew they were going to try to get 3s and really put pressure on us off the dribble,” Buffaloes coach Tad Boyle said. “We didn’t do a great job down the stretch.”

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

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

Initially, Simpson wasn’t open. But freshman Cody Williams, a projected lottery pick in the upcoming NBA draft, waited long enough to find Simpson, who drove to his right, located the space to shoot and rattled in the shot.

After Clayton’s midcourt heave landed to the right of the rim as time expired, Lampkin leaped through the photographers sitting behind the baseline and climbed into the section of Colorado fans behind the courtside media seating to revel in the win.

Colorado (26-10) advanced to face 2-seed Marquette (26-9) in the second round Sunday.

Simpson and the Buffaloes weren’t concerned with how he got the room to shoot Colorado into the next round. All that mattered was that it went their way.

Said Simpson: “It looked good once it left my hands.”

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