With Deion Sanders in attendance, CU Buffs, KJ Simpson pummel CSU Rams, 93-65December 9, 2022
BOULDER — With Coach Prime in the house, KJ Simpson put on a Prime Time performance himself.
Simpson, CU’s sophomore point guard, dropped a game-high 27 points in front of new Buffs football coach Deion Sanders and a full house at the Events Center, powering the Buffs to a 93-65 rout of rival CSU.
CU men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle admitted that he challenged Simpson to rise to the occasion against venerated Rams point guard Isaiah Stevens, a senior who’s been on a minutes restriction since returning from a foot injury in late November.
“Isaiah Stevens is a really good point guard. I kept pumping him up,” Boyle said after his Buffs improved to 5-5 and snapped a two-game losing skid. “KJ Simpson took that to heart. Took it personally.”
Simpson netted 18 points in the second half, with 12 of those coming on four 3-pointers. Stevens finished with 15 points and three assists but turned it over five times as he continues to get back up to game speed.
CSU dropped to 6-4 in the first meeting between the in-state rivals since December 2019, and the first in Boulder in roughly four years. CU has won three straight on the hardwood in the series for the first time since 2004.
The hosts, who led 38-30 at halftime, opened the final stanza with a 12-6 run, thanks to 6-of-9 shooting to open the second half, and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. CSU, conversely, missed five of its first seven shots coming out of the break as the Buffs built a double-digit lead.
But a prime-time hoops matchup went up another notch once Coach Prime joined the party early in the second half.
Sanders attended his first CU-CSU game as Buffs football coach, walking into the CU Events Center with 14:27 remaining in the men’s basketball showdown between the Rams and CU.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer entered in Coach Prime fashion, wearing a white CU “Prime 21” hooded sweatshirt, baseball cap and sunglasses as the Events Center went … well, completely bonkers.
“DEION SANDERS! DEION SANDERS! DEION SANDERS!”
The home faithful gave a standing ovation and chanted as the coach walked up the baseline and took a seat in Section 23. Son Shedeur Sanders, who’s expected to play quarterback for the Buffs, settled in to the coach’s left.
As the cameras closed in on the new CU coach and featured him on the various video boards around the arena, Sanders acknowledged the rapturous applause, first by playfully lifting his son’s arm, then rising himself and pumping his left fist to the crowd.
The Buffs led at the time, 53-40, and responded to Coach Prime’s arrival with a 10-3 run and a 20-point cushion. CU poured it from there, using a post-Prime surge for a 27-12 run that put the tilt out of reach.
“We were definitely building off (his) positivity,” Simpson said of Sanders’ arrival.
Sanders came late and left early, departing the proceedings with 2:35 to go in the game. CU outscored CSU 33-20 during his time in the building.
Coach Prime is slated to get his first crack at the Rams on the football field in about 10 months, when CU hosts CSU at Folsom Field on Sept. 16.
While Sanders was late to the hoops party, the visage of CU’s newest football figurehead was everywhere during the pregame.
The Buffs hawked CU “Prime 21” gear on the giant scoreboard hanging above midcourt. The rosters left on seats featured a QR code on the back of the sheet that opened a link for direct donations to the Buff Club.
The Rams’ John Tonje, one of only two players on either roster (Stevens being the other) to have ever played in a CU-vs.-CSU tussle, turned a steal into a run-out and breakaway dunk on the hosts’ first possession of the game, giving CSU the first points of the evening.
It would be the Rams’ last lead for a spell.
The Buffs used their superior length and defense to forge a 10-5 lead on 4-for-7 shooting before the Rams countered with a 7-0 run of their own, capped by Jalen Lake’s teardrop in the lane with 14:20 to go until halftime.
CSU had moments in the half court, draining four of its first six attempts from beyond the arc. But the Buffs’ active hands forced 10 first-half turnovers and rarely let the visitors get comfortable in the backcourt. With CSU shooting its way to a 22-18 lead, CU turned backcourt strips into a pair of fast-break buckets, swinging momentum the other way on a J’Vonne Hadley dunk and a layup by Javon Ruffin that launched the Buffs into a 10-0 run.
Stevens’ 3-pointer knotted the tilt at 28-all with 4:21 left in the half, only for the Buffs to string together a 10-2 run to close the frame, with five of those points coming from Simpson. Nique Clifford’s runner in the lane with 29 seconds to go in the half gave the hosts a 38-30 cushion at the break.
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