It was by no means a picturesque victory. But it was one Colorado gladly will take.
KJ Simpson calmly knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.8 seconds left to lift the Colorado men’s basketball team to a 58-55 win against Washington State on Sunday at the CU Events Center. The Buffaloes snapped a three-game losing streak and remained unbeaten at home against the Cougars (12-0).
The Buffs avoided matching their worst 10-game start in conference play in 13 seasons under head coach Tad Boyle and received a much-needed jolt of confidence before hitting the road later this week for a two-game trip through Oregon.
“I wanted to attack kind of later down in the clock,” Simpson said. “It wasn’t exactly how it was drawn up. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do sometimes.”
CU rode the hot hand of Tristan da Silva for much of the game, as the junior forward went 11-for-13 for 27 points. Simpson hit two free throws with 35.6 seconds left to give CU a 55-54 lead, but Washington State’s TJ Bamba hit a free throw with 26.6 seconds left to pull the Cougars even.
Simpson wore down the final seconds on the clock before working off a Luke O’Brien screen to pull up for the winning 3-pointer. The sophomore guard finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Bamba, WSU’s leading scorer who had missed the previous three games due to a hand injury, was a thorn in the Buffs’ side throughout the second half, repeatedly driving to the basket to score 14 of his 18 points after halftime. The Denver-Lincoln product had one final chance for WSU at the buzzer, but his off-balance 3-pointer was off the mark.
Despite Simpson’s late heroics, this game was won at the defensive end for the Buffs. Colorado shot 57.9% in the first half and finished 50% overall, but turnovers handcuffed an otherwise efficient CU offense for much of the game. The Buffs committed 11 turnovers in the first 13 minutes, 9 seconds of the game but recorded only six more the rest of the way.
WSU entered the game as the Pac-12’s top 3-point shooting team but was held to a 4-for-16 mark from the arc. The Cougars finished 39.2% overall and were outrebounded 30-27 by the Buffs.
“I told them after the game I really believe our two practices leading up to this game helped us win this game,” Boyle said. “Our guys were dialed-in. They were focused. They were energetic. They were talking.
“Our team responded after our lack of focus and lack of energy at times against Washington. To come out and battle and beat a very good Washington State team … they’ve got good players. Well-coached. That’s what makes this win satisfying.”
After watching Washington shoot 63.6% in the second half and 54% overall during a loss on Thursday, the Buffs’ defense on Sunday allowed them to overcome 17 turnovers, another rough day at the free throw line (14-for-23) and an unremarkable day from the arc. Simpson’s winning 3-pointer was just the second of the day for CU, which finished 2-for-7.
“The past three losses, I feel like they could’ve went either way,” said da Silva, who made his first nine shots. “We could’ve come away with a W too, but we kind of let them slip away. Today, with the work and energy we put in these past couple days in practice and today on the court, I feel like we earned it. It was a great play at the end. Mr. KJ Simpson to kind of save the day.”
Snapshot: CU Buffs men 58, Washington State 55
Turning point: CU trailed by 10 midway through the first half, but used a 13-0 run to help take a one-point lead a the break. The Buffs then held WSU scoreless for two stretches of play in the second half totaling 9 minutes, 40 seconds to hold off the Cougars.
Buff of the game: KJ Simpson wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play the hero without Tristan da Silva. The junior forward made his first nine shots before finishing 11-for-13 with 27 points.
What’s next?: The Buffs begin a two-game trip through Oregon on Thursday against the Oregon Ducks (7 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network).
Colorado 58, Washington State 55
WASHINGTON STATE (9-12, 4-6 Pac-12)
Rodman 2-7 3-4 8, Jakimovski 5-7 0-0 12, Gueye 0-7 0-0 0, Bamba 8-18 2-5 18, Powell 2-4 3-3 7, Diongue 0-0 0-0 0, Mullins 2-5 3-3 7, Houinsou 1-3 0-0 3, Darling 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 11-15 55.
COLORADO (12-9, 4-6)
da Silva 11-13 4-4 27, Lovering 0-0 0-3 4, Simpson 5-12 5-6 16, Hadley 4-7 1-2 9, Clifford 0-1 0-0 0, O’Brien 0-3 0-0 0, Hammond III 1-6 3-6 5, Wright 0-0 0-0 0, Gabbidon 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 21-42 14-23 58.
Halftime — Colorado 26-25. 3-point field goals — Washington State 4-16 (Rodman 1-4, Jakimovski 2-2, Gueye 0-2, Bamba 0-3, Powell 0-1, Mullins 0-2, Mouinsou 1-2); Colorado 2-7 (da Silva 1-2, Simpson 1-3, O’Brien 0-1, Hammond III 0-1). Rebounds — Washington State 27 (Jakimovski 7); Colorado 30 (O’Brien 6). Assists — Washington State 7 (Bamba, Powell 2); Colorado 6 (Simpson 3). Total fouls — Washington State 20, Colorado 16. A — 6,731.
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