This was a game that left Pioneer hoops fans in an optimistic mood and showed why this is a young team worth watching. A good crowd (3,020), the first of the season, created an energy that inspired the Pioneers (11-11) to hang tough against a veteran program. DU, playing against the senior laden, league leading South Dakota State Jackrabbits (18-5) fought toe to toe before the game slipped away in the final few minutes.
Joe Scott went to the bigger, more athletic lineup with C.J. Bobbitt at center, Marcus Byrd at the wing, and gave Thomas Neff, Jake Holtzmann and Jake Pemberton meaningful minutes. DU’s improved length helped on defense but cold shooting and rebounding proved the difference again.
In the first half, DU jumped out to a 12-5 lead at the 10 minute mark and held that margin until the 3:30 mark when they led 22-14. Then, the Jackrabbits started moving the ball inside for easy buckets. Cold shooting by DU, 25% shooting from the field and 28% from downtown, allowed the Jackrabbits to claw their way back. At the halftime break, DU held a 25-24 advantage.
After half, the teams traded buckets and South Dakota State tied the game 33-33 at the 16 minute mark. At this point, DU’s offense was led by C. J. Bobbitt with 10 points, Marcus Byrd with 9 points, and Joe Rosga with 6. The teams pulled even again at 40-40 at 13:30, despite DU trailing in rebounds by 5. Finally, DU gave up the lead at 9:54 on a three point play and trailed 48-46. Engesser countered with a three but South Dakota State responded. At that point, the fouls began stacked up against DU and the Jackrabbits moved to the 1-and-1 for the rest of the game. This started to limit DU’s aggressiveness and, essentially, was the undoing of the Pioneers. The Jackrabbits started to pull away – they led by 2 at the 7 minute mark, 4 at the 6 minute mark, and 6 at the 4 minute mark. Then, the Jackrabbits canned some 3-point bombs and free throws and DU was down by 10 at the 2 minute mark. The margin held and the game ended 56-67, South Dakota State.
On the game, SDS shot 47% from the field and 42% from the arc. DU shot 42% from the field and a rough 24% from three. DU had the advantage in turnovers with only 8 compared to 12 for the Jackrabbits. The killer, again was rebounds – 36 for South Dakota State and 22 for DU – a whopping -14 differential. Rosga and Bobbitt had a dozen points each and Marcus Byrd chipped in 11 points. Mike Daum led the Jackrabbits with 15 points.
It makes a big difference when there is energy in the building and this game had a different feeling than many of the sparsely attended games earlier in the year. The result – a much better experience for fans and players alike. DU has solid young talent and the coaching staff is not afraid to play them in tough spots. Puck Swami’s comments earlier this week about sagging attendance is on point – the student athletes should be getting better support from students and fans. Let’s hope this is the beginning.