Late Second Half Run Leads Florida Gulf Coast Past Denver, 79-71

It was another frustrating night for the Denver Pioneers – with the score tied at 60 and 5:27 remaining, Denver was in position to steal a road win against a team that has been to the NCAA tournament in both of the previous two seasons. Instead, Florida Gulf Coast put on a stellar offensive performance in the remaining minutes and hit their free throws to come away with a 79-71 victory in the first game for both teams of the Homewood Suites FGCU Shootout.

Daniel Amigo led the Pioneers with 13 points in a back and forth first half – the Pioneers actually tied things up at 30 with 3:08 left in the half before Florida Gulf Coast went on a mini 5-2 run to close the half, taking a 35-32 lead over Denver into the locker room. The Eagles were led in the first half by Zach Johnson, who had 11 at the break and would prove to be a thorn in the Pio’s side in the second half as well.

Florida Gulf Coast started the second half off with a series of baskets and looked poised to run away, but a flurry of points from Abiola Akintola, Jake Pemberton, and Christian Mackey had Denver right back in it at the under 12 minute break. From there the teams traded buckets until the game was tied with 5:27 to go – but the Eagles closed out stronger, outscoring Denver 19-11 at the end of the game.

The stars of the game for Denver were Daniel Amigo and Jake Pemberton. Amigo ended up with a double double (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Pemberton caught on fire in the second half, where he scored 10 of his 15 total points. Christian Mackey also had an excellent game, scoring 10 points on 5-6 shooting and grabbing 6 boards – he has shown a lot of improvement this season and is averaging 4.7 PPG and 4.3 RPG despite playing only 11.7 minutes a game.

The main takeaway from this game is probably going to be a familiar refrain this season – the defense needs to improve. The Pioneers gave up 79 points, but they did it on only 66 possessions, a figure that will have to improve if Denver wants to make a run in the Summit League. The Pioneers currently rank #271 out of 351 teams in kenpom’s adjusted defense metrics (which adjust for the tempo and talent level of the opposition), which is concerning, but the season is young. The next game should be a good indication of where things are at – Denver plays St. Francis Brooklyn at 2 PM tomorrow – the Terriers lost to Navy today and are not expected to be very good this season. This game might be a small challenge to the Pioneers, but not one they can’t overcome. I’m looking to see an improved defensive performance and I think the Pioneers should be able to get their first victory in the FGCU Shootout tomorrow.