The IUPUI (11-14) Jaguars rolled into Magness Arena Thursday night in a 3-way tie for first place in the Summit and pummeled DU (12-11) the first 30 minutes of play.
No sense giving the play-by-play of the first half. Denver played one of their most forgettable twenty minutes in recent history shooting 37% from the floor, committing 9 turnovers, giving up 20 rebounds, and going 0-7 from three point land to make this, perhaps, the most inept half of basketball ever seen in Joe Scott’s coaching tenure at DU. In a near mathematical improbability, the Pioneers were trailing by ONLY 9, 21-30, at the break.
It didn’t start any better in the second half as IUPUI outscored DU 10-4 to take a 40-25 lead at the 16:00 mark. DU was lost. Missed free throws (8), 3-point misses (2-16/game), and rebounding, especially on the defensive end, looked like the perfect formula for a lopsided, demoralizing home loss.
But DU started to chip away.
With ten minutes to go, the Pioneers started to came to life. Joe Rosga, Thomas Neff, team defense – and mostly the raw determination of Christian Mackey who took personal charge of the game in the final 10 minutes went on to shock IUPUI 53-51.
Mackey’s box score looked good – 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 1 steal -in only 16 minutes of play. But probably no play felt bigger during DU’s run than when Mackey was fouled bulling his way to the hoop. He bumped into IUPUI’s Darrell Combs while walking back to the FT line. A frustrated Combs shoved Mackey for a “T” and the unraveling of the Jags continued.
DU trailed the entire game until the 2:19 mark of the second stanza when Joe Rosga tied it up at 48 all. Then, after a stop, freshman Thomas Neff hit a 3 point bomb to put the Pioneers up by three. After the teams went back and forth, the game ended on an intentional missed free throw from Marcus Byrd with .9 left and a desperation heave by IUPUI that was knocked harmlessly away.
While Mackey was the star, super freshman Joe Rosga led DU in scoring with 16 points and freshman Thomas Neff had the courage to take and make the biggest shot of the game when he canned his three pointer from the top right of the arc to give DU the lead they would never relinquish. And Coach Scott secured his 100th home victory at Magness Arena in the unlikeliest of ways.
One had the feeling that if DU would have played the second half like the first half, there is a good chance this year’s team would have had their confidence shaken and have had most of us questioning their mental toughness. Instead, they earned their biggest win of the season. The IUPUI school website said the Jags squandered their lead. They got it wrong – Christian Mackey took it and the rest of his teammates stepped up.