It’s been an up and down season for the Denver Pioneers – and tonight was one of those down nights. Northern Colorado got a combined 50 points from Andre Spight and Anthony Johnson and easily defeated the Pios by 20 points. It’s a game that Northern Colorado was clearly the favorite in, but to see them come away with such an easy victory is a little disappointing after Denver’s superb effort against USC Upstate.
Both teams got off to a slow start, with neither scoring a point until the 17:23 mark when Jonah Radebaugh made a three for the Bears. Denver hung around for a while early in the half, but Northern Colorado slowly crept away and a Spight three with 9:14 to go made it 20-11 UNC. It got worse from there as the Bears would outscore the Pios 25-11 the rest of the way to grab a massive 45-22 lead at halftime. One of the few positives for Denver in the first half came when Joe Rosga made a jumper at the 6:03 mark to score his 1,000 point for the Pioneers. Quite an accomplishment for Rosga, who of course is just a junior.
Denver showed some fight in the second half and even got the lead down to 16 with a Thomas Neff (who made his return tonight) three with 17:25 to go, but a comeback just wasn’t meant to be. Northern Colorado continued to pull away as the half went on and saw their lead grow to as much as 28 when Spight made a shot with just under five minutes to go. Denver chipped away a little at the end and got the final deficit to a somewhat more respectable 20 points, but the game was never in doubt in the second half.
This was one of those games where it’s hard to find a lot of positives – a 20 point loss to an in state rival is not ideal. But Daniel Amigo did have 8 points and 5 boards, and Rosga did end up with 14 points (though it took 14 shots) and an impressive 7 boards. Luke Neff had another solid performance with 6 points on two three pointers and Denver actually outrebounded the Bears, 36-27. However, those positives weren’t nearly enough to outweigh the negatives.
One of the main issues for Denver in this game was turnovers – they had 18 and Northern Colorado only had 9. It’s hard to win a game when you have twice as many turnovers as your opponent. Ade Murkey alone had 5 turnovers, which he will need to improve on for Denver to be competitive in the Summit League. It was also a bad night for Jake Pemberton, who only came away with 4 points and who also had 3 fouls – a tough performance after he had posted double digit points in two of the last three games.
This was a bad game for Denver – there’s no doubt about it. After their win against the Spartans on Saturday, I expected the Pios to at least be competitive tonight, and it didn’t happen. At this point it looks like Denver, at least in the nonconference, is just an inconsistent team. There is still time to figure things out before conference play begins, but that is fast approaching, with Denver’s first Summit League game taking place at South Dakota on December 30. In the meantime, the Pioneers will travel to Palo Alto to play Stanford on Friday. Stanford is very talented and will be a heavy favorite against the Pios, but the Cardinal have already lost this season to Eastern Washington, Portland State, and Long Beach State, so if Denver can come out hot (as we’ve seen them do at times this season), they’ll certainly have a chance to pick up a great road win against a Pac 12 team.