It was exactly the kind of game the Denver Pioneers men’s basketball team needed. An 11-0 run to start the game took some of the pressure off after Thursday night’s heartbreaking loss to Omaha – and despite several comebacks from Oral Roberts, the Pios held strong and left Tulsa with a 73-64 win.
The first half started off about as ideally as a game could. Baskets by Joe Rosga, Jake Pemberton, Abiola Akintola, Ade Murkey, and Daniel Amigo got Denver off to an extraordinarily balanced 11-0 start with 13:47 to go in the half. Oral Roberts didn’t just lay down and give up though – they scratched and clawed to keep the deficit mostly in the 6-12 point range and thanks to five quick points in the final minute of the half, the Golden Eagles would head to the locker room down 34-25. It was a great half for the Pioneers, but they would need another similar half to get a road Summit League victory.
Denver did not disappoint in the second half. It was a bit of a roller coaster – a Chris Miller layup cut Denver’s lead to 2 points with 16:54 to go, but Amigo would immediately respond with a three point to extend it back to 5. Oral Roberts was pesky though, and despite several Denver runs, they actually tied the game at 50 with only 9:28 to go. It was a test of Denver’s resolve and they passed with flying colors. The Pios went on a 11-1 run from there to grab a 61-51 lead and that was basically it. Oral Roberts did get the deficit down to 5 with 57 seconds to go, but two Murkey free throws spoiled any dreams the Golden Eagles had for a comeback.
This was a very nice road victory for Denver and an important one after the loss at Omaha. It would have been easy to be down after that game, but Denver came out strong from the beginning and proved that that wasn’t a concern. Daniel Amigo was great, scoring 20, though he did foul out. Rosga and Pemberton both had 13 and Akintola chipped in 8 as well. The team had 10 turnovers, but forced 14 on the other end, which is a good sign. Overall it was an excellent night for the core group of players – and when that happens they are going to be able to win any Summit League game.
There weren’t many negatives in this game – Denver did get outrebounded 32-23 and there were some players who surely wish that they had a better night – Jake Krafka only scored 2 points in 16 minutes on 1-4 shooting and Donoven Carlisle didn’t score in his 6 minutes and only had 1 rebound, but that is mostly just being nitpicky. Denver did lose a large lead a few times in this game, but to have built the lead up that high to begin with, especially on the road, and to come away with a 9 point victory makes that less of a concern in my eyes.
Quite simply, when Denver has a good night, they can win, and they can win on the road. They don’t have a huge margin for error though, which is why we have seen a lot of inconsistency this season. It is impressive that Denver won two of their four road games on this trip though, and they almost won three. A 2-4 record in the Summit is not where any of us wanted to be, but up next is a very winnable game at home against Western Illinois and if Denver can win that one, who knows where their momentum might carry them in the game after that, a huge tilt against South Dakota at Magness on January 27. First though is the game against the Leathernecks – it is on Thursday, January 25 at 7:00 PM MST at Magness Arena. Western Illinois has had a rough go of it this year and Denver will be favored. A win on Thursday would get Denver to 3-4 in the conference – which would be impressive after the hole they dug for themselves in the Summit League. I expect a victory and I’m hopeful that the Pios will keep things clicking and it won’t even be close.