Denver escapes with 78-72 victory at Western Illinois

After Saturday’s clunker at North Dakota State, there were some concerns about which Denver (16-10, 8-5) team would show up on Tuesday night at Western Illinois (8-16, 5-8). At halftime, the answer seemed to be pretty clear. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, there was still another half to play, and what a wild half it was.

Things got off to a slow start for both teams, and at the 17:45 mark of the first half, Daniel Amigo picked up his first foul with the score tied 3-3. Denver fans collectively held their breath, as a second quick foul could spell trouble for the Pios. Instead, Amigo went on a dominating run over the next 12 minutes, by the time he got his second foul with 6:02 left in the half, he had already amassed 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists – and Denver led 35-24. Amigo would head to the bench at this point though, and with six minutes still left in the half, Western Illinois knew this was a good chance to make a run. Instead, Ade Murkey would score 10 straight points as part of a 14-3 run by Denver to close the half. That made the halftime score 49-27 and it looked like the Pioneers could coast to an easy victory.

After two quick baskets to open the second half, Denver had a 53-27 advantage and those halftime thoughts seemed to be confirmed. This is where things started to go wrong. It began, not surprisingly, with a Garret Covington three to bring the score to 53-30. During the next eight and a half minutes, the Leathernecks caught fire while the Pioneers went stone cold. The ugly result: a 28-3 Western Illinois run, with 13 of those coming from Covington. What was a 53-27 lead had suddenly become a 56-55 lead, and there was still 10:26 left in the game.

With the game starting to slip away, it was the hero of the first half, Daniel Amigo, who would right the ship. In the three and a half minute stretch after Western Illinois made it a one point game, Amigo would score 8 huge points and the Pioneers lead stretched back to 66-59 with 6:45 remaining.

The pesky Leathernecks refused to go away though, as Mike Miklusak got hot, and a Brandon Gilbeck dunk with 1:46 to go made it a one point game once again, 73-72. Following missed shots by Joe Rosga and Amigo, Miklusak was fouled and stood at the line with 27 seconds left and a chance to give Western Illinois the lead. Fortunately, he missed the front end of the one-and-one and Thomas Neff made both free throws on the other side to make it 75-72. Covington had a chance to tie it at the end but missed a wild three point attempt, and free throws by Amigo and Neff salted things away, giving Denver a hard fought 78-72 victory.

Amigo ended up with an impressive 26 points and 14 rebounds, with the Pios also getting double digit scoring performances from Murkey (12), Neff (11), and Rosga (10).

For the second game in a row we saw both the best of Denver and the worst of Denver. The stretch leading to the 53-27 lead was some of the best basketball the Pios have played all year, Amigo dominated and everyone else chipped in as necessary. On the flip side, the 28-3 run by Western Illinois was some of the ugliest basketball we have seen from Denver all year. Turnovers, fouls, and forced shots on the offensive end made things easy for the Leathernecks and they took full advantage.

At the end of the day, it was a 6 point road win over a Summit League team that has shown surprising moxie this year. You can’t complain too much about that, but it sure was a roller coaster getting there. Denver returns home to play IUPUI on Sunday at Magness Arena and they will need to be focused for the whole 40 minutes as the Jaguars will be eager to avenge their earlier home loss to the Pios.

The Summit League game to watch tomorrow night is North Dakota State at Fort Wayne. A win by the Bison all but ends any dreams Denver has of capturing a league title, while a win by Fort Wayne would keep the Mastodons nipping at Denver’s heels for 3rd place.

8 thoughts on “Denver escapes with 78-72 victory at Western Illinois”

  1. OK…so there was a second half slide. I like to look at it from a glass half full perspective. After giving up their massive lead, they had to stop the bleeding and find the will to win in the final 10 minutes – on the road. We’ll take it.

    Now on to IUPUI Sunday – they helped DU by taking down UNO and giving DU a 2 game lead in 3rd place in the Summit with 3 games to go.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree, not pretty, but the team has learned how to close it out (not the first time we’ve seen big lapses post-Utah Valley). Amigo was dominating and Murkey was the unsung star. And the victory assures a winning season.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. FOR OPTIMISTS AND DREAMERS ONLY: Let’s finish 2nd or tied for 2nd in Summit. For the Summit Tourney, we need a draw so we play non-Dakota schools through the semi-finals. (all Dakota schools will be tough to beat) Finals, we play league champ, probably NDSU, on national TV. WE need League regular season champ to make finals, otherwise they get NIT bid. Okay we lose. (maybe we win) We finish something like 21-11. NIT gives us a call.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glad the Pios won on the road. It’s all gravy now. Just enjoy the winning season in Billups’ first year! With no serious losses to graduation this Pioneer team should be very good next year with a full year of growth under the new coaching staff. Proud of the whole program,

    Liked by 2 people

  5. With Fort Wayne’s win over NDSU tonight, Denver remains in the hunt for a Summit League title.

    It would almost certainly require Denver to win out, but vs IUPUI, vs Omaha, and at SDSU is not the most grueling schedule to close out the season. For fun, let’s be generous and say they win out, so they’re 11-5.

    NDSU has Western Illinois at home, an almost certain win. Then they close with road games at Oral Roberts and Omaha. Lose one of those games (more likely Omaha) and they are 11-5.

    South Dakota has Oral Roberts at home, again an almost certain win. Then road games at Western Illinois and IUPUI. Split those (most likely loss is to IUPUI) and they are 11-5.

    That gives us a three way tie for first, and unfortunately the Pios would be the 3 seed in the conference tournament, but they would be credited as co-champions for the regular season. The dream remains alive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe in that scenario South Dakota would get the #1 seed due to a 3-1 record against us/NDSU. Then NDSU gets the #2 seed with a 2-2 record and we get the #3 seed with 1-3 record.

      So we would have to face NDSU in the semis and possibly South Dakota in the finals.

      It seems in this case the NIT would consider South Dakota the “champion” as they would be the #1 seed and they would get the NIT autobid if they failed to win the conference tournament, so Denver would be hoping for an “at-large” NIT bid. It is my understanding that the Summit League has never received an “at-large” NIT bid, only the autobid when the #1 seed doesn’t win the conference tournament.

      I admittedly know very little about the NIT selection process though, it would be very nice if we had that as a backup option!

      Like

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