Not surprisingly, it was a long afternoon in Brookings, South Dakota for the Denver Pioneers. The Jackrabbits proved why they are the league favorites and atop the conference standings – they are dang good. Mike Daum had 34 points and David Jenkins added 27 in a game that Denver was never in from the start.
A Jenkins three pointer started the game for the Jackrabbits and despite baskets from Joe Rosga and Jake Pemberton, SDSU rocketed off to a 15-4 lead by the 13:45 mark. It was a terrible start for the Pioneers in a game where they needed a hot beginning to even have a chance – and unfortunately things didn’t really get any better from there. Denver had only 12 points total with under six minutes to play in the first half and only a late spurt got them to 26 points at the break, though that still left the Pios down by 19 points after Daum ended the half with a three point basket.
Facing a 19 point deficit on the road at the best team in the league made the second half feel a bit anticlimactic. Denver had a few runs (mostly led by Rosga and Daniel Amigo) but the lead hovered around 20-25 points for the entire second half and Denver was just never in it. The Pioneers used another late series of baskets to get up to 72 points (which doesn’t seem entirely reflective of their offensive performance today), but it wasn’t nearly enough as South Dakota State came away with a 22 point, 94-72 victory.
The star of the game for Denver was easily Rosga, who had 19 points on 8-13 shooting and 4 rebounds (though no assists on the day), though Ade Murkey turned in a solid performance with 15 points and 6 rebounds while Amigo chipped in 17 in 21 minutes off of the bench. Thomas Neff also had a good role performance with 7 points in 19 minutes. All in all though, it just wasn’t nearly enough to stop the machine that is Mike Daum and the SDSU Jackrabbits.
While Denver once again limited turnovers (having only 10) and held their own on the boards (collecting 33 rebounds, the same as the Jackrabbits), it couldn’t make up for the 20 fouls that they committed (compared to 10 for SDSU) and the 20 points that South Dakota State picked up on free throws. The Pioneers would also end the game with only five assists, a shockingly low figure. The defense also was just not able to stop SDSU – the Jackrabbits shot 54.4% from the field, 44.4% from three point land, and 90.9% from the free throw line. Denver was thoroughly dominated by two players in this game – Daum and Jenkins – and there was just no way their offense could keep up, even on the best of days.
This was a game that everyone had marked as a loss, and probably a bad one, so it’s hard to take too much from this result. A 22 point defeat is not ideal, but SDSU is good, they are equipped to do well in the NCAA tournament if they can win the conference tournament, and they’ll surely be the favorites. So I’m not too worried, especially since the Pios just won at Fargo a mere two days ago. The next game should be pretty telling though – Denver travels to Omaha on Thursday, January 18 at 6:30 PM MST to face a Mavericks team that is 6-13 (1-3) and quite frankly, had been pretty bad this season. This and the Western Illinois game are the two easiest road clashes for the Pioneers, so it would be a nice sign of progress to see a win at Omaha. It would also mean two wins in the last three games, with both on the road. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, a loss would be a squandered opportunity and a sign that the North Dakota State game may have been a bit of a fluke. I think we’ll learn a lot more about this Pioneers team from the Omaha game than we did from this game – and I’m excited to see how they do.