It was an opportunity for their biggest win of the season and the Denver Pioneers took advantage of it. They rode a hot start and incredible performances to an almost easy 84-68 win. South Dakota did make a few runs but for the most part Denver just outplayed them and certainly looked like the better team on this day. I asked Coach Billups how a win like this affects the team’s confidence the rest of the way and he said “If we can beat arguably the best team in the conference on our home floor, we can beat anybody. We’ve got some tough games ahead, we’ve got to take this show on the road against Fort Wayne next Saturday but this gives us the confidence to push through.”
The first half started fantastically for Denver – Joe Rosga made a layup 53 seconds into the game and Denver just kept scoring from there. A Pemberton jumper made it 20-3 at the 11:14 mark and it got up to 31-10 at the 7:47 mark when Pemberton (again!) drilled a three. Denver kept their foot on the gas and it was 39-20 with 2:43 to go. The Coyotes would go on a late 8-3 run to decrease the deficit to 16 points at the half, but it still felt like the Pios were in complete control.
Denver came out of the gate strong in the second half as well – getting quick buckets from Rosga and Pemberton to start the half before trading baskets back and forth. South Dakota just kind of hung around in the second half, though they did make a few runs, even getting the deficit down to single digits. The Pios just kept fighting back though, and despite some struggles with the full court press, they never allowed the Coyotes to really get back in it. Because of that, by the last few minutes, it was mostly just garbage time and Denver was able to put in some subs and sail to a 84-68 victory. I asked Coach Billups how Denver was able to stop the runs when in the past they haven’t been able to this season. “I think just repetition and how we practice and how we coach, it’s helping our guys with confidence. When we make shots in this building, the crowd is going and guys have some pride about it, we’re pretty good.”
I often try to highlight the positives and negatives in a game – but it’s a struggle to find much bad here. Daniel Amigo did foul out and the team had 16 turnovers, but none of that cancelled out all of the positives. Rosga had 23 points on 9-13 shooting while Jake Pemberton poured in 20 points. Coach Billups had great things to say about them both. “[Rosga’s] got to keep his foot on the pedal. He scored the first 13 and I believe he got tired and they started attacking him defensively but a game like that is something that we expect. We need our best scorer to score the ball and he did that today.” About Pemberton he said: “Jake Pemberton did an unbelievable job [defensively] with [Mooney]. If I had to vote today, after eight games in the league, he would be the defensive player of the year. Not just because he is on our roster, but because of the havoc he causes against their best player.” One other fun little tidbit – South Dakota has lost by 16 points twice this season – Denver did it tonight. The other team? Duke on December 2 in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It was flat out the best win of the year for Denver and I’m incredibly excited about the future of this team and this program. Denver’s next game is on Saturday, February 3 at 12:00 PM MST in Fort Wayne, Indiana against the Fort Wayne Mastodons. They are 3-4 in the conference (a half game behind Denver) and will play Oral Roberts on Thursday before Denver comes to town. Before the game against the Mastodons though, Denver will get to enjoy a bye this week. In a way it is kind of frustrating to have such a big win and not get to play again for a week, but that isn’t how Coach Billups sees it: “”It’s perfect, it’s the right time. Our guys are in class and in midterms, we need some off just to relax and recover. Like I said, Joe Rosga, Daniel Amigo, guys that are playing a lot of minutes need this break.”