With 2.1 seconds to go, it looked like Denver was going to steal an OT road victory at Omaha. Jake Pemberton had just made a three and Denver had a 74-71 lead – Omaha would need a miracle three to tie it… and as you can see in the picture above, Omaha’s Daniel Norl made that miracle three (banked in no less!) and sent the game to a second OT. Denver had a chance in that second OT, and hung around, but in the end Omaha pulled away and Denver ended up with its most frustrating loss of the season.
The first half started off strong for Denver, a Jake Krafka three got the Pios out to an early 9-4 lead, but Omaha would go on a run of their own, eventually grabbing a 25-21 lead on a JT Gibson three. The Pioneers would make a mini 8-3 run after that to close the half with a 29-28 lead. The back and forth end to the half would be a sign of things to come.
Omaha started the second half with two quick baskets to reclaim the lead, and they would eventually stretch the lead out to 8 points when a Matt Pile layup made it 42-34 with 14:27 to go. In a familiar refrain, Denver responded to that with a run of their own, closing things to 44-43 with 11:13 left. Omaha would maintain a lead for most of the rest of the second half, with Denver getting close, but not quite tying things up – until there were 6 seconds left. Joe Rosga had already made two clutch free throws to get the score to 63-61, and he came up big again in this spot, draining two more free throws to tie things at 63. Omaha would miss their chance at a game winner in regulation and Denver headed to OT with all of the momentum on their side.
The first OT began with a Pemberton layup and two baskets by Ade Murkey – giving Denver a 69-64 lead with 3:00 to go and giving all of us fans a little bit of confidence. Omaha would make yet another comeback though, led by Zach Johnson, and the game was tied at 71 with 23 seconds left. Denver had the ball with the shot clock off and things almost went exactly according to plan. A Pemberton three gave the Pios a 74-71 lead, but it left 4 seconds on the clock, and after an Omaha timeout to reset with 2.1 seconds left, they had a chance. Norl would of course make that miracle banked three and send things to a second OT.
Denver would keep things close in the second OT, but as often happens when a team makes a buzzer beater to force OT, Omaha rode that momentum to a victory in the extra period. Omaha grabbed an early lead and would keep it for the entire OT period, the Pios did get things to an 82-80 deficit with 18 seconds to go, but Norl (who is thankfully a senior) would make two free throws and a no call on a Pemberton layup attempt sealed things for the Mavericks, giving them an 86-80 victory after Ayo Akinwole made two final free throws.
This has been a difficult season for Denver – there have been some ups, but also many downs, and this particular down was an extra special kind of kick to the teeth. It’s worth noting the positives – Denver came back multiple times in this game, and it was on the road. They showed resolve and they’ll need that this season. Pemberton scored 20, and Rosga and Murkey both had 18. Jake Krafka grabbed 10 boards and scored 6. Pemberton also made that huge 3 at the end of the first OT, which will sadly be forgotten by many since the Pioneers didn’t win the game. There were of course negatives – as there always are when you lose to a team that was 6-14 heading into the game. Denver had 20 turnovers (so did Omaha, which kept it close) and took 18 more shots than Omaha, despite scoring 6 fewer points. Daniel Amigo shot 4-12 on field goals and fouled out – he also had three turnovers. Abiola Akintola fouled out and only scored 1 point. Elvin Rodriguez was 1-2 from the field with 2 points, no assists, and a foul. The highs and lows from individual players are just as frustrating as the highs and lows from the team overall and this game encapsulated that perfectly.
As I said in the last recap, this game was important, it’s an indicator of where the season is and where it might go. Denver had their chances to win this game, and this article would be a lot more positive if not for that miracle three, but the fact of the matter is that the Pioneers lost – they are 7-12 and 1-4 in the Summit League. They are capable of putting everything together and beating good teams, but on a game to game basis, they just aren’t going to be able to compete for a top half Summit League finish. At this point the basement doesn’t seem out of the question – the game next week against Western Illinois at home will be a must win just for pride, it is statistically Denver’s easiest remaining game. First though, Denver will head to Tulsa to play the surprising Oral Roberts Golden Eagles. They started the Summit League 3-0, but dropped three in a row at South Dakota State, North Dakota State, and South Dakota – something that can easily be forgiven. It will be a tough game for Denver, they will be big underdogs and pulling out the road victory will be difficult. I’m looking for signs of individual improvement and fewer turnovers – a win would be gravy at this point. The game is on Saturday at 6:00 PM MST in Tulsa, Oklahoma and will be televised on ESPN3.