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Colorado knocks off #11 Tennessee behind Simpson’s 23 points

KJ Simpson and the defense starred in this upset win.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Tennessee Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes have knocked off the #11 Tennessee Volunteers, 78-66, in Nashville. It was the Buffs’ first road win over a ranked opponent since D’Shawn Schwartz’s buzzer-beater sunk the Dayton Flyers in 2019.

The Buffs started this game with great energy, thanks to Tad Boyle’s bold move to have four new starters — Javon Ruffin, Jalen Gabbidon, Ethan Wright, Luke O’Brien, alongside usual stater Lawson Lovering. It was a message that their collective effort against Grambling was unacceptable and no one has guaranteed minutes if they don’t show up to play. It’s a tactic Tad uses time to time, but never this early in the season.

Colorado played tremendous defense from start to finish. They were as tight as ever in their rotations, smart in their closeouts and help defense, and forced the Vols into jump shots. Lovering by himself closed down the paint and everyone else crashed hard on the defensive glass. Tennessee shot a horrendous 16/63 (25.4%) from the field and were buoyed by a tight whistle that resulted in 30 free throw attempts. Most of their shots were threes, which thanks to Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler’s respective prolificacy, turned the Bridgeton Arena into the Brickton Arena. (Sorry.)

The offense was slow to get going, particularly as they dealt with early turnovers, but eventually they solved Rick Barnes’s defense. This Achilles heel, which will now be targeted by every single Tennessee opponent, is that they cannot stop a shifty guard from getting into the teeth of the defense. K.J. Simpson had a field day, breaking down whoever was in front of him, getting layups whenever he wanted, and even hitting some important threes. Julian Hammond, meanwhile, opened up all kinds of space running the pick-and-roll, finding easy shots for himself and setting up clutch threes for Tristan da Silva and others.

This performance was a wake up call to the Buffs that they can beat anyone if they show up to play with energy and focus. Simpson is the go-to scorer, Hammond is a terrific facilitator, da Silva does all the little things, and everyone else plays hard, moves the ball and takes their chances within the flow of the offense. This team is very good when they want to be.

Next up for the Buffs is a trip to the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Their first game will be against the UMass Minutemen on Thursday then Texas A&M or Murray State on Friday. Finally on Sunday they will face one of Boise State, Loyola (Chicago), Tulsa or Charlotte.