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CU Buffs MBB notes: Wing trio among many standouts in topping No. 24 Texas A&M

Colorado's Nique Clifford brings the ball up the floor against Texas A&M on Friday. (Myrtle Beach Invitational/courtesy photo)
Colorado’s Nique Clifford brings the ball up the floor against Texas A&M on Friday. (Myrtle Beach Invitational/courtesy photo)
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CONWAY, S.C. — KJ Simpson stole the show. But the supporting cast wasn’t too shabby either.

Simpson, CU’s sophomore point guard, quickly is turning into a star, and he turned in his second career game of the week in Colorado’s 103-75 rout of No. 24 Texas A&M on Friday at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

In particular, CU head coach Tad Boyle cited the play of Nique Clifford, Javon Ruffin and Luke O’Brien as critical to the Buffs’ blowout victory. There were plenty of other standouts as well, but those three players combined for 10 assists with no turnovers while going 11-for-19 from the field.

“With Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien and Javon, the three of those guys with 10 assists and no turnovers. They really took care of the ball,” Boyle said. “Luke and Nique had been struggling a little bit. Javon is just getting going in his career. I thought they played with great poise.”

O’Brien had gone 0-for-5 on 3-pointers in the previous two games, but he made a concerted effort to get to the rim against the Aggies, going 3-for-3 on 2-pointers with a 3-point play. More encouraging for the Buffs was the play of Clifford, CU’s starting two-guard who shook off a season-opening rut to record 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. A 40% 3-point shooter in limited chances last year (24-for-60), Clifford entered Thursday’s game just 2-for-10 on the young season on 3-pointers, but went 2-for-3 against the Aggies.

“I grabbed him as he got on the bus (on Thursday) and I just said, ‘Nique, today is the first day of the rest of your career,’” Boyle said. “You’ve got to put the past in the past. I said, ‘When you make mistakes, don’t let your head go down. We believe in you, just go out and play.’ That was the message to Nique, and I thought he really responded.”

Hadley injured

The Buffs played without starting forward J’Vonne Hadley, who suffered a right shoulder injury during Thursday’s loss against UMass. Hadley was injured late in the first half but finished the UMass game, recording a game-high nine rebounds.

However, Boyle said Hadley was too sore on Friday to go against Texas A&M. The extent of the injury won’t be clarified until the Buffs return to Boulder, but it is unlikely Hadley will play in the Myrtle Beach Invitational finale on Sunday.

“He played through it (Thursday) when it was loose and the adrenaline was going, but he woke up (Friday) and he was in a lot of pain,” Boyle said. “I don’t expect to have him Sunday. He’ll go to the doctor when we get back and we’ll go from there.”

Notable

The Buffs recorded 22 assists against Texas A&M, their most since posting 27 during a win against Georgetown in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament…Center Lawson Lovering recorded 11 assists in 18 games in a reserve role last year as a true freshman. He has seven assists in the past two games, setting a career high on Thursday (three) and again on Friday (four)…Simpson became the 16th CU player to record at least six steals in a game. Those 16 players combined have reached that total 29 times in program history…Colorado committed six turnovers in the first 7 minutes, 32 seconds against Texas A&M but recorded only seven the rest of the way…The Buffs began the week with a 6-12 mark all-time against teams from the SEC (not including games against Missouri and Texas A&M when they were Big 12 rivals with CU) but posted wins against Tennessee and the Aggies in a five-day span.

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