Photo: Bryson Scott (#1) led Fort Wayne scorers with 27 points
The ball left Thomas Neff’s hand from beyond the arc with 5 seconds to go – the Pioneers trailed by 2 points. The ball danced on the rim. Daniel Amigo reached up for the put-back to tie the game but the ball rolled out of the cylinder.
That was the end of a back and forth contest for the feisty Pioneers.
It was the Pioneers biggest test to-date. They responded over and over again and refused to fold but, ultimately, came up short against the Fort Wayne Mastadons – 83-87.
Fort Wayne (15-4, 3-1) were clearly one of the best teams Denver (9-7, 1-2) has faced this season, pounding their opponents by an average of 12.6 points per game. The guard tandem of Mo Evans and John Konchar represented one of the best back-court tandems in basketball. And, the Mastadons were playing at home (8-1) – at the Gates Sports Center.
Heading into this contest, Pioneer fans were curious to see how the newly crafted Pioneers would stand up to the Fort Wayne pressure – especially after falling to South Dakota in a disheartening loss at Magness arena Wednesday night. Could the Pioneers defend the high ball offensive screens that killed them against the Coyotes – against the number three 3-point shooting team in the nation?
Denver started on fire with a 10-0 run (17:34) to start the game. But, by 14:47 Fort Wayne countered DU’s surge and tied the contest at a dozen each. Joe Rosga (16:42) left the game and went to the locker room with a cut lip and Bradley George took over at the point as Denver had to change-up their rotation and take on the Mastadons without their leading scorer. At 12:18, Daniel Amigo picked up his first personal foul. At 10:00 minutes, Denver held a 22-18 lead on a nifty Jake Krafka layup. A pair of Daniel Amigo free throws made the score 24-18, his 10th point. Then, at 9:26 Daniel Amigo picked up his second foul and was subbed out – so the Pioneers were without Daniel Amigo and Joe Rosga. At the 8:18 mark, a 3-pointer by Mo Evans gave the Mastadons the lead 26-24 – their first of the game. Kason Harrell and Mo Evans 3-pointers, sandwiched between a Christian Mackey 3-pointer and another Mo Evans bomb gave Fort Wayne a 7 point lead, 30-37, at 5:28. Joe Rosga came back from the locker room and re-entered the game at 4:49 and started to damage the Mastadons. Rosga scored 7 points in the final 2:19 of the half but DU still trailed 39-43 at break. Mo Evans and Bryson Scott had 14 points each to lead Fort Wayne.
Daniel Amigo started the second half and opened play with a quick bucket :30 seconds into the second half. Then, Amigo picked up his crucial third foul but stayed in the game and followed with another quick bucket. At 16:03, Daniel Amigo’s was awarded his fourth personal foul with the score 51-53, Fort Wayne. Amigo went to the bench with 16 points, tied with Mo Evans for the scoring lead. At 13 minutes, a Joe Rosga 3-point bomb narrowed the defecit to 56-58. A Jake Krafka bucket tied the game at 58 a piece @ 11:45. Then, a Thomas Neff 3-point shot gave DU the lead 75-73 @ 4:11. At 3:31, a Mo Evans tray made it 78-75 but Joe Rosga countered with another 3 to tie the contest . A Brent Calhoun jumper at 1:36 gave Fort Wayne the advantage 78-80. A Thomas Neff layup miss and DU foul extended Fort Wayne’s lead to 4. But DU came back – again. DU got the ball back off a miss and another Joe Rosga 3-pointer made it 81-82 @ :55. Not to be outdone, Fort Wayne star Mo Evans made the shot of the game, a three point bomb, to extend the lead to 4 again. But DU would not give up. Two Thomas Neff free throws narrowed the margin to 2 with 30 seconds left. Mo Evans got called for a travel on the inbound trap and DU had the ball with a chance to tie or win. The Pioneers ran clock and Thomas Neff launched a 3-point attempt for the win with 5 seconds left. It missed. Then, a Daniel Amigo tip-in to tie the game rolled out. Denver’s chance to tie or win the game evaporated. Denver fouled and two free throws @ :01 by John Konchar ended the contest.
Joe Rosga scored 27 points in 28 minutes and Daniel Amigo had 18 points in 19 minutes to lead the Pioneers. C.J. Bobbit had 5 rebounds and 8 points. Fort Wayne’s Bryson Scott scored 27 points and collected 6 rebounds, Mo Evans had 24 points and 6 rebounds and Brent Calhoun chipped in with 16 points. Fort Wayne star John Konchar was held to 6 points. Both teams had 14 turnovers and DU was out-rebounded 22-26, one of the few games DU lost the battle of the boards.
If there is such a thing as a ‘good loss’, this was it. The Pioneers kept coming back and making big plays on Fort Wayne, similar to what South Dakota did to Denver at Magness earlier this week. Denver kept it close despite Daniel Amigo’s foul trouble and Joe Rosga absence from the lineup with injury. Denver had a chance to win or tie on their final possession with a clean look and a possible put-back. Not much more you could ask for – other than a Pioneer win.
This game should give the Pioneers confidence that they can hang with any team in the Summit League with their current roster. They come home this upcoming week for two games against Western Illinois (3-1 Summit) and a surprisingly strong North Dakota State (3-0).