Florida’s Season Ends In Heartbreak With 102-100 NCAA Tournament Loss

In one of the most thrilling games that March Madness has given us this year the Florida Gators’ season ended in heartbreak as the Colorado Buffaloes edged them out 102-100 in an absolute thriller.

Florida got the jump early, playing with energy and flying around the court on both ends. That was until Colorado started picking apart matchups and putting up points in a hurry, and the game went to the break locked at 45-45. In the second half it was all Colorado as the Gators struggled to get stops, and at one point it looked like Florida was left for dead. They couldn’t get a stop without fouling and fell behind 94-84 with under four minutes left, a lead that started to feel insurmountable. 


That’s when Walter Clayton stepped up.


As he has done so many times this season, the Florida native took the Gators on his back, first with layups, then with drawing fouls, and finally hitting some outrageous threes. In the last 2:19 of action Clayton had 14 points, putting on a herculean effort that would have been remembered as an all-time great performance should the Gators have been able to get the win. His final three came with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 100-100, a deep ball on the right side of the court in a situation where the Gators needed a miracle. 


The game ended on a Colorado sideline out of bounds that entered the hands of star guard KJ Simpson. With Zyon Pullin guarding him tightly, Simpson drove baseline and stopped on a dime, which caught Pullin off balance just enough for Simpson to be able to get his shot off. It bounced once, twice, three times, and then rolled around every part of the rim before falling through the mesh, leaving only enough time for the Gators to make a full-court heave for the win. It didn’t land, and Florida’s season ended in devastating fashion. During the play Simpson used his off arm to create contact and assist in the separation, making for an extremely controversial non-call upon viewing the replay. This wasn’t the only time the Gators felt like they got a bad whistle, evidenced by an earlier technical foul by head coach Todd Golden. 


While this game ended on the final possession, for a long time it was looking like the Buffaloes were going to win with ease. Florida’s defense was extremely porous, with Colorado shooting 63% from the field. Oftentimes to score 100 pounds you need to hit a lot of three-point shots–but that wasn’t even the case as Colorado shot only 6-10 from three. This points to how they were able to get to the rim at will, a product of the matchups the Buffaloes were able to create. Each time down the floor the Gators used forwards Tristan Da Silva, J’Vonne Hadley, or Cody Williams to take on Tyrese Samuel or Thomas Haugh in space, and neither of them was able to contain them off the dribble.

That wasn’t the only matchup the Buffaloes exploited as they also posted up 6’11”, 265 pound Eddie Lampkin as much as possible as he ate up the Gators sleight interior defense for 21 points on 8-14 shooting. Containing physical post players has been an issue all year long, and Florida had one of their worst performances in this area in the biggest game of the season. Their double teams were slow turning into open shots when the ball started whipping around the perimeter, and if they chose to go one-on-one Lampkin was able to get to his hook shot. 


Of course, all this talk of the matchups Colorado was able to exploit doesn’t even include the play of KJ Simpson, an All-American candidate who finished with 23 points and 5 assists.

Each of Colorado’s starters finished with 16 or more points, and 27 of the Buffaloes 34 made field goals were assisted. All in all, it was an offensive clinic, and Florida’s defense had no answers or adjustments to slow it down.


Colorado entered this game 25th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric–a solid ranking, but not one that would suggest such an overwhelming performance. In the first-four game against Boise State, Colorado managed only 60 points.


Oftentimes in the NCAA Tournament your biggest strengths, and weaknesses, are spotlighted. Florida’s strength as a team that plays hard and rebounds around two outstanding guards was on display, led by a career night by Walter Clayton who had 33 points and one of the best two-minute stretches you’re ever going to see to give Florida a chance to win this game. 


However, their weaknesses were spotlighted even more. They couldn’t guard the ball on the perimeter, and when drives occurred there was no cohesion with help. When the ball was entered in the post, Florida didn’t have any answers or the necessary bulk to compete. 


The final buzzer ended with tears from Florida’s roster as they felt like they didn’t just have what it took to win this game–but to go on a run in the NCAA Tournament. The cruelty of March is that a few minutes of bad basketball can end your entire season, and Florida unfortunately had a lot more bad minutes than good minutes on Friday. 


Florida will end the season with a record of 24-12. 

Eric Fawcett
Eric is a basketball coach and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His work has been found at NBA international properties, ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericfawcett_.