Thursday night, the University of Denver (13-12) fell to Western Illinois (9-13), 60-63 at Magness Arena.
The Pioneers had a chance to move to 14-11 and an excellent opportunity to finish the season 500 or better with three road games and one home game remaining. Instead, after losing to the last place Leathernecks at home, they board a plane tomorrow morning to play Oral Roberts in a battle to finish their 3-game road trip above 500.
The Pioneers were missing trigger-man freshman Joe Rosga, and Daniel Amigo, again, was in street clothes. C.J. Bobbitt only played 8 minutes. There is no doubt that DU suffered defensively and offensively without Rosga. That being said, Jake Pemberton and Thomas Neff each played 40 minutes filling the Rosga void and putting in solid minutes. Duke Douglas put in a strong effort under the bucket as well but DU was out-manned and out-muscled.
This game was lost inside and on the boards – just like almost all the other DU losses this season. The Leathernecks Jalen Chapmen lit up the Pioneers for 26 points, mostly inside, and Western Illinois controlled the boards. The Pioneers were clobbered on the boards 33 (7 offensive) to 20 (a -13 differential). In addition, their points in the paint were 30-36 (-6). Again, if not for great effort on the floor by the Pioneers, this game would not have been as close as it was.
In the first half, Western Illinois started the game with a 7-1 run to put the Pioneers on their heels. DU closed the gap to 6-10 at the 15 minute mark and then, Christian Mackey made an inside bucket to pull within 2 points. At 10 minutes, DU trailed 15-17 but pulled into a tie score on an Engesser drive to the bucket a minute later. DU secured their first lead 19-17 at the 7:20 mark but the Leathernecks responded by punishing the Pioneers inside with stuffs to extend their lead to 19-25 at 5:00. These in-the-paint shots gave Western Illinois a 10% higher shooting percentage (55%) than DU (45%) and gave them confidence as they headed into the locker room with a 31-26 lead.
In the second half, DU came out more aggressively but the Leathernecks moved their shooting percentage up to 60% at the 16 minute mark and extended their advantage to a 12 point lead at 15 minutes – 35-47. At this point, DU was getting out rebounded 20-10. Strong all around efforts from Jake Pemberton and Marcus Byrd (18 points) started to pull the Leathernecks back and DU drew within 2 points at 9 minutes to go – 47-49. Then, DU finally took the lead, 51-50, at 7:10. Under 5 minutes to go and the score was tied 57 all. The Pioneers could not score for the next three minutes and were stuck at 58 points while the Leathernecks extended their score to 62 points. After a DU foul, Western Illinois star Jalen Chapman went to the free throw line to ice the game with 50 seconds left but clanked his two shots. With DU trailing by 2, Duke Douglas drove to the hoop but was tied up – possession to Western Illinois. DU fouled and the Leathernecks hit the first free throw but miss the second. DU trailed by 3. An inbound pass to Engesser and a 35 foot shot to tie the game missed – Final score 60-63.
This was a tough loss – especially for a team gaining confidence. The loss of Joe Rosga and poor rebounding proved fatal, despite a strong effort from DU’s re-tooled line-up. Rosga may be the player DU can lest afford to lose, especially for the Summit League Tournament.