Slow start dooms Denver in loss at North Dakota State

Special to LetsGoDU by Chris Shockey

Denver (15-10, 7-5) went into Saturday afternoon’s game at North Dakota State (17-8, 9-3) with everything still on the table. A win against the Bison and the Pios would be tied for first place and have a great chance at a Summit League title. North Dakota State had other ideas though, and rode a well-rounded performance to a fairly easy 81-63 victory.

You could tell it was going to be a long afternoon when Daniel Amigo picked up his second foul just 3 minutes and 15 seconds into the game. NDSU had a small 5-2 lead when Coach Billups had to pull Amigo out of the game, and during Amigo’s time on the bench, the Bison took full advantage, going on an 11-0 run and seeing their lead balloon to 16-2.

With the game slipping away from Denver, Billups was forced to bring Amigo back with 12:58 left in the first half. It was a big gamble, but it paid off, Amigo would help fuel a 15-2 run that got Denver to within a single point at the 7:29 mark.  NDSU responded with a big three to go back up 21-17, but Joe Rosga struck right back, making another clutch three and getting it to a one-point deficit once again, at 21-20. Unfortunately, this was as close as Denver would get for the rest of the game. The Bison responded with an 8-0 run and ended up going into halftime with a 35-30 lead.

To be fair, at this point it still felt like it was anyone’s game, and despite a five-point deficit, Denver had to feel good about their 28-19 run to end the first half. Those good feelings did not last long though, as North Dakota State came out of halftime strong, going on a quick 10-2 run over the first 3 minutes and 5 seconds of the second half, which was aided by Amigo picking up his third foul.

Denver fought admirably from this point, but the shots just weren’t falling for the Pios and the Bison slowly but steadily expanded their lead throughout the remainder of the second half.  North Dakota State would go on to win 81-63, a margin of victory that gives us all bad flashbacks to last year’s game at Scheels Arena, a 75-49 NDSU victory.

Despite a couple of strong performances from Amigo (14 points, 8 rebounds) and Rosga (16 points, 5 rebounds) this was easily Denver’s worst offensive performance as a team in conference play. They ended up shooting 21-60 (35.0%) from the field and 5-25 (20.0%) from three point land. It was, unfortunately, a dud in one of the biggest games of the season. Coach Billups may just want to burn this game tape and move on to Tuesday’s game at Western Illinois with a clean slate.

The highlight of the game for DU was an ‘own basket’ by NDSU’s Khy Kabbelus that made ESPN Sports Center. Follow the link HERE.

One notable bit of good news for the Pios: Jake Krafka returned from a leg injury that he suffered during the January 25th game versus South Dakota State. He scored 8 points and it was good to see him back on the floor after missing the last three games.

In other Summit League news, South Dakota won a close one at home against SDSU, making the Coyotes 9-4 in the Summit League, sitting a half game behind the 9-3 Bison. Denver has sole possession of third place with a 7-5 record but has put themselves a notch below the top two teams. Later this evening Oral Roberts will play at IUPUI and Omaha will play at Fort Wayne.