After Denver’s last meeting with South Dakota State, a 91-82 home win, the Pioneers stood at 5-3 in the Summit League. The Jackrabbits, on the other hand, were 2-6 and in last place in the conference. Since then the two teams have been trending in opposite directions, culminating in SDSU’s runaway 88-64 win over Denver on Saturday afternoon.
Denver got off to a slow start, falling behind 8-0 over the first four and a half minutes of the game, by which point Jake Pemberton had already picked up two fouls. The Pios would finally score at the 15:10 mark, but couldn’t stop Mike Daum and Reed Tellinghuisen, who had scored all of South Dakota State’s points when they led 16-9 midway through the first half.
Denver followed this with one of their best stretches of the game, with Joe Rosga, Ade Murkey, and Christian Mackey all chipping in on a quick 9-2 run that pulled the Pios to within two points of the Jackrabbits. Unfortunately, that was as close as Denver would get for the rest of the game.
Daum scored the next six points and with the help of Skyler Flatten and Chris Howell, South Dakota State ended the half on a 23-10 run and entered halftime with a 41-26 lead. Uncharacteristically, despite eight first half attempts, Denver did not make their first free throw as a team until there was just 1 second left in the half.
The start of the second half didn’t go much better for Denver, as South Dakota State went on a 5-0 run in the first minute, pushing their lead up to 20 points. Daniel Amigo would pick up his third foul with 17:34 to go, but he stayed in the game and the Pioneers would trade baskets with SDSU over the next couple of minutes.
The score sat at 55-35 when Michael Orris came up with a steal that led to an A.J. Hess three pointer, making it 58-35 and pushing the lead over 20 points for the first time. It would grow to as high as 25 points midway through the second half, and despite a Denver run that got the score to 71-56 with 6:53 to go, the Pios just didn’t have enough to come back from such a deficit.
Denver’s points were limited almost exclusively to free throws in the last seven minutes, while the Jackrabbits continued to make baskets and expand their lead, eventually winning the game, 88-64. Daum led SDSU with 30 points, the tenth time this season that he has scored 30+, while Denver got 15 points from Rosga, 13 from C.J. Bobbitt (despite his 1-5 performance on the free throw line), and only 8 from Amigo.
The decisive loss puts Denver in an uncomfortable position entering the Summit League tournament in Sioux Falls. They have now lost three games in a row to opponents thought to be inferior, and the high chance they once had of being a top 3 seed is out the window. In fact, depending on the results of the games this evening, Denver could fall to as low as the #7 seed. It was a frustrating end to an overall highly positive regular season for Rodney Billups and the Denver Pioneers. After being picked to finish 8th in the preseason poll, the Pios can now finish no worse than a tie for 4th.
The three remaining Summit League games this evening will all have an impact on the seeding for the conference tournament. They are:
South Dakota at IUPUI
North Dakota State at Omaha
Fort Wayne at Western Illinois
Right now almost everything is up in the air. The only things we know for certain are that Western Illinois will be the #8 seed and that Oral Roberts, who finished the conference season in 9th place, will not be making the trip to Sioux Falls.