The University of Denver (3-5 overall, 0-0 conference) streaked out to a large lead against Air Force (4-3 overall, 0-0 conference) at Magness Arena Saturday afternoon – but the Pioneers could not hold on. The Pioneers had a fairy tale start to the game and enjoyed leads of 18 to 3 and 27 to 5 before falling to the pressing Falcons.
Denver was controlling the game tempo early but a soft press by the visitors started to disrupt Denver’s rhythm in the final 8 minutes of the first half. The Falcons closed the gap to 11 points at break, 38-27, and could clearly see the Pioneers offense fall out of sync.
Denver picked up 6 quick personal fouls to open the second half – all in less than 5 minutes. The Denver offense stalled and DU’s lead was drawn down to 9 points when, at 13:27, Joe Rosga picked up his 4th foul. At 12:02 Jake Pemberton picked up his 4th foul of the game. As the fouls mounted, the Falcons started to pressure all over the court. And, on offense, the Falcons started hitting from the outside and moving the ball inside on the Pioneers for easy buckets. Jake Neff kept the falcons at bay when he came in to spell Rosga at the midway point of the second half with two 3-point buckets – but the Falcons pressure continued. DU’s lead was down to 5 points at the 8:45 mark and slipping fast. Air Force also moved into the bonus against the foul-plagued Pioneers at 7:07 and shortly thereafter Joe Rosga (4:38) exited the game with his 5th personal foul. Denver responded to the pressure with turnovers and rushed offensive possessions.
Denver lost the lead with about a 1:59 to go, 56-55, and could never gain control again. A free throw by Jake Holtzman tied the game at 59 each but a tomahawk dunk by Air Force’s Thomas Louder made it 61-59 and the clock ran out on the Pioneers chances of a comeback.
The Pioneers could only score 21 points in the second half and threw the ball away 22 times for the game in a shoddy exhibition of ball management. After the game, an exasperated head coach Rodney Billups agreed, “They started pressuring our guards – because we have not been able to take care of the ball all year. (After the big win against Wyoming) this is as bad as it gets. We played on our heels. We played not to lose.”
Daniel Amigo led the Pioneers with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Joe Rosga tallied 11 points as well. Ryan Manning had 19 points to pace the Falcons along with 14 points from Pervis Louder to seal the sloppy Pioneers day.
All in all, a very poor game for the Denver.