There weren’t a lot of reasons to be hopeful heading into Thursday night’s game at North Dakota State. Denver had lost five in a row against DI opponents, was 0-2 in the Summit League, and oh yeah, they hadn’t won at North Dakota State ever. So it made sense to see that the Pios were a 10.5 point underdog at tip off, some may have even wondered why the spread wasn’t higher. But it seems we all underestimated this scrappy Pioneers squad – despite all of the points mentioned above, they went into Fargo and came away with a 67-61 victory where they lead almost the entire way.
The first half got off to a decent start, with Denver and North Dakota State going back and forth until the 15:20 mark, when a Joe Rosga jumper brought things to even at 8-8. From there Denver would score the next seven to make it a 9-0 run, giving them a 15-8 lead. Denver continued to dominate and went into halftime with a commanding 35-22 lead. It was an amazing first half performance and left us all wondering if a huge win was on the way or if those second half jitters from earlier in the season would resurface,
As if to nip those thoughts in the bud immediately, Rosga drained a three at the 19:41 mark of the second half and Jake Krafka made one of his own 39 seconds later at the 19:02 mark. That made the lead 19 and although it would never climb quite that high again, the Pios remained comfortably in control for much of the second half. It wasn’t until the 6:12 mark when A.J. Jacobson made a three for the Bison to cut the lead to 6 that some concern started to creep in. Denver would respond with an Ade Murkey jumper though and thanks to smart shots and good free throw shooting, the lead never got below 6 as the Pioneers came away with the 67-61 victory.
It was an impressive game for Denver on many fronts. Rosga had 15, Jake Pemberton 14, Murkey 12, and Amigo added 13 points and 9 rebounds in a 25 minute performance off of the bench. As a team, Denver outrebounded NDSU 38-29 and shot 41.2% (7-17) from three point land compared to 23.1% (6-26) for the Bison. The Pios also limited their turnovers, having only 9 in this game, compared to the double digits that had become the norm as of late. Denver even dominated with assists, having 17 compared to only 8 for North Dakota State.
This was an exciting game and helps breathe some new life into this season for Denver. Despite some slip ups and some ugly play, Denver has now proven that they can beat decent teams – Wyoming at home and North Dakota State on the road – so you have to feel like they have a shot on any given night in the Summit League. And the fact of the matter is that even though the Summit has a lot of talent this year, especially at the top, Denver is now tied for fourth place with a 1-2 record. This game was an excellent reminder that the season is long and there are plenty of games left in the Summit League. I was as frustrated with some of the play in the last half dozen games as many others, but this showed another side of this Denver team, one that can compete in the Summit League and make things interesting over the next month and a half.
Up next for Denver is a game at South Dakota State. You never want to play at South Dakota State (at least when they have Mike Daum), but I’ll take this timing any day. Denver was always going to be a huge underdog in this game and I don’t expect SDSU to overlook anyone, so why not roll into Brookings off of a huge road win and all the momentum in the world? It’s going to be incredibly difficult to beat the Jackrabbits on the road, but I think Denver might just have a puncher’s chance after what I saw tonight. The game is at 1:00 PM MST at Frost Arena on Saturday, January 11 – SDSU is 15-5 overall and 3-0 in the Summit, having beaten NDSU, Omaha, and Oral Roberts.