It was almost déjà vu all over again for the Denver Pioneers, but a late surge pushed them past San Jose State, 58-56. The stat sheet was dominated by three players – Joe Rosga, Jake Pemberton, and Daniel Amigo – between them they scored 56 of the Pioneer’s 58 points – and it was a big three by Rosga and free throws by Pemberton and Amigo that carried Denver at the end.
The first half, much like in the Air Force game, was dominated by the Pios. They jumped out to a 33-13 lead after a Jake Pemberton three with 2:12 to go and would head into the half with a 33-18 lead. It was a dominating performance, but the thought in the back of a lot of fan’s minds was: will this be a repeat of the Air Force game?
At first, it appeared that Denver would continue to coast and come away with an easy win. An Amigo dunk gave Denver a 38-22 lead with 16:55 to go and the Pioneers would have a double digit lead as late as the 12:45 mark in the second half. But from there, San Jose State started to chip away, and by the time the clock read 9:20, Denver’s lead had been cut to three. The Spartans would eventually tie the game with 4:28 to go and the fans in Magness Arena started to become uneasy. However, a huge Rosga three with 4:02 to go, along with some big free throws and solid defense gave Denver a 58-56 lead with 12 seconds to go, but with the Spartans in possession of the ball. Nai Carlisle would miss a layup, but San Jose State would get a second chance, this time with Ryan Welage coming up short on a jumper. I asked Coach Billups about that frantic end and if he expected San Jose State to shoot a two or a three. “[The goal was] just to get a stop. We were on our heels with their momentum and we just said at the timeout – hey we’re one stop away from winning the game. I expected them to go for a tie. The strength of their team is to play inside out, so we knew that they were going to take a two.”
As mentioned in the headline, the game was dominated by three players – Rosga, Pemberton, and Amigo. While they had excellent nights, it was a little concerning to see the team rely so heavily on the same three players. I asked Coach Billups about this and he wasn’t ready to go that far, saying: “”No, it’s not a concern. Other guys will step up, the strength of our team is our team. I know exactly what I’m going to get from those three guys, I just don’t know what I’m going to get from other guys yet, we’re trying to figure that out, but it doesn’t concern me.”
Joe Rosga led the team in scoring with 23 points, although Coach Billups was quick to notice the zero assists when I asked him about Rosga. “[What impresses me most is] just his will to win. I’d like him to make some smarter decisions, I’d like him to make some point guard decisons, but Joe’s a scorer and I need his scoring. He’s a leader by showing up every day and doing the same thing and going as hard as he can for as long as he can and showing these young guys what it’s supposed to look like.”
Jake Krafka grabbed 7 boards but didn’t score any points and fouled out for the second time in three games. I asked Coach Billups if that was cause for alarm and he wasn’t too worried. “I don’t think so, he’s playing hard. He’s not playing very smart. It’s not concerning as long as he’s giving effort and giving energy, we’re not concerned with him fouling out.”
This was a win against a Mountain West team – Denver’s second this season – so it’s hard to compain about the path they took to get it, although there were certainly bumps along the road. It was disappointing to see another second half collapse, but it was impressive to see the Pioneers show some resilancy and fight back for a victory. Coach Billups agreed: “It was huge. It gave our team some confidence and if we just play defense and do what we’re supposed to do at the free throw line, and make some shots, we can beat anybody.”
Denver’s next game is against a USC-Upstate team from the Atlantic Sun that has only beaten one divison I team this season. I expect that Denver should be able to come together as a team and get a win on Saturday against the Spartans. I’d like to see contributions from some more players and a continued focus on defense – it should be another good game to gauge where Denver is at right now.