Pioneers Scorch Jackrabbits in Second Half Tear but Come Up Short 53-54

Denver lost on a missed foul shot by super freshman Joe Rosga with virtually no time left on the clock to end a great effort, 53-54, at the Summit League Semifinals. Rosga was tripped earlier in the waning seconds but it was a ‘non-foul’, allowing the Jackrabbits to take the lead and win the contest by the narrowest of margins.

The first five minutes of the game were played at Denver’s preferred pace, Denver (16-15) trailed by only two, 4-6, in front of 10,000 blue and yellow clad fans. Over the next five minutes, the Jacks (25-7) extended their lead to 13-6 as Denver was ice cold from the field. SDSU continued their domination on the boards with an early 8-13 advantage. SDSU continued to extend their lead to 11, 14-25, on some home-cooking officiating and cold Pio shooting. The Pioneers took the margin below 10, 19-28,  with less than 2 minutes to go on a Pemberton 3-point bomb to stay in contact. Denver closed to within 6 points, 22-28, with less than a minute to go in the half but the Jackrabbits responded with a bucket of their own. A Joe Rosga buzzer shot did not make it in time and Denver had to settle for a 22-30 score at break.

DU clearly did not play to their winning formula the first half. The Pioneers shot only 35% from the field, 22% from the arc, and were hammered on the boards 20-11. With tough defense, DU was able to stay in striking distance to make a run – and they did.

Denver caught fire after halftime.

Denver absolutely exploded in the first five minutes of the second half. The Pioneers took the lead in a blink of an eye, 32-30, with a 10-0 run to start the 2nd half. C.J. Bobbitt, Marcus Byrd (3-point shot), Jake Pemberton and a Joe Rosga bucket-and-1 hushed the hometown crowd. But the Pioneers were not done. Denver extended their lead to 38-31 on a Neff 3-point laser. A Byrd steal and Pemberton’s 3 took DU up by 8 with an 18 point run, stunning the capacity crowd. Then, Bobbitt hammered a bucket home for a 42 – 30, DU lead resulting in an incredible  20-0 run to start the second half. That was followed by a Pemberton bomb from the corner that made it 45-32. Bobbitt followed with a bucket to make it 47-32 with 10:52 minutes to go. Jake Pemberton, LetsGoDU’s most improved player, led DU in both points (16) and rebounds (9) and was a key difference maker in the run. Denver held a 10 point lead and the ball at 7:50 to go. The Pio’s maintained a 10 point lead with 5 minutes to go. Unfortunately, a desperation made 3-point shot from the Jack’s Deondre Parks was fouled by Christian Mackey. Parks hit the free throw to make it a 4-point play and narrowed the Pioneer margin to 6 points. The Jackrabbits kept narrowing the margin down to 53-52, DU, with 1-minute to go.  SDSU then hit two free throws on a trip (the same call that was not made against Joe Rosga on the other end) to take the lead 54-53, SDSU. A flurry of activity in the waning seconds and a make-up call and missed 1-and-1 free throw from Rosga allowed the Jackrabbits to eek out the win.

SDSU Mike Daum, a 6’9″ 2-star freshman of the year for SDSU, played a major role in bringing the Jackrabbits back. A player like Daum is a difference maker who causes havoc in the interior and is just the kind of player Denver needs to add this off-season. DU is still missing this critical piece to guard the interior on defense and score easy buckets in the paint.

As disappointing as the final score was, Pioneer fans have to be encouraged by this year’s squad – led by a selfless seniors , never quit underclassmen, and a talented group of freshmen.  They are poised to become a very good team over the next several years. Special recognition should go out to the coaching staff – Joe Scott, John Fitzgerald, Nate Rohnert, Dan Ficke, John Jordan, and Alex Pickard who developed a deep roster and kept the players together over the ups and down of a challenging college basketball season. Few of us could have imagined this kind of progress heading into the 2015-2016 season.