After a close loss to South Dakota State on Thursday, Denver was in desperate need of a home win to keep them in the running for a third place finish in the Summit League. Things looked a little iffy at the beginning, and North Dakota State made a huge run that Denver had to fight off late, but they ended up coming away with a 66-63 victory. This gets them to 5-6 in the Summit League, and depending on the result of tonight’s Fort Wayne/Omaha game, the Pios will either be in third place or a game back in fourth place at the end of the day.
It looked like Denver was going to have another terrible start to a game after two quick buckets from the Bison made it 5-0 at the 18:52 mark, but Denver responded with a Joe Rosga three, followed by a Jake Pemberton three to give Denver the lead and erase any fears of having to dig out of another deep hole. Then Daniel Amigo went on a tear – with two huge back to back dunks and then two threes and another jumper, giving him 12 points in under four minutes. Unfortunately, he would get his second foul at the 11:35 mark and wouldn’t return for the rest of the half. I asked Coach Billups if he considered bringing him back in the first half and he said he didn’t. “He was way too good for us, we couldn’t afford his third foul, we needed him in the second half.” It all worked out though as Denver outscored NDSU 13-8 to close the half with a 31-24 lead.
The Bison wouldn’t go away though, and they started the second half off hot to get the deficit down to 36-34 after a Paul Miller layup with 15:52 left. Joe Rosga would go on a run with some assistance from Daniel Amigo though, and soon enough it was back to 44-36 with 13:09 to play. Amigo made another three in this time, his third of the game, and this is not the first time he’s let it fly from behind the arc. I asked Coach Billups if Amigo is trying to incorporate that into his game more and he said “He’s been shooting them all year, they just haven’t been going in. Before the game he was shooting 27% from three, I think he was 5/18, but today he was feeling good, he got a few shots early, he got the dunk and the lob, his confidence was high. You know, I try not to handcuff our guys offensively, let them be who they are, but coach them defensively. So if he’s open, just like anyone else, I let him shoot it.” Denver continued to stay hot from there, pushing the lead to 55-42 before things went a little haywire… A late 21-9 run by NDSU closed things to an extremely tight 64-63 with 1:28 to go. Thankfully Denver responded with a couple Rosga free throws and after an Ade Murkey steal that could have sealed the game had he not stepped on the sideline, the Bison missed two last second threes to let Denver escape with a 66-63 win.
In discussing the positives of this game, you have to start with Rosga and Amigo. Rosga ended up with 26 points, 4 rebounds, and only 1 turnover. Amigo had 19 points, and 4 rebounds before fouling out very late. Together that is an incredible 45 of the team’s total 66 points, just from Rosga and Amigo. I asked Coach Billups about those two and he loved what they did today: “It’s great, and that stems from Daniel Amigo taking some pressure off of Joe. When we can score at the basket and get some drives for layups, it opens up our perimeter play and Joe Rosga was the recipient of that tonight.” Denver also went almost eleven straight minutes to start the second half with no turnovers. I asked Coach Billups how huge it was to have a stretch like that. “It’s huge when we can build off of that. Our guys don’t try to turn the ball over, it kind of just happens with the pace of play and different coverages defensively. It’s a work in progress and our guys understand that.”
Despite coming away with a win, the 21-9 run at the end for the Bison was very alarming. It was an almost total collapse and the Pios were lucky to come away with a victory. They also had 16 turnovers in the game and 10 in the first half, so despite their solid play at the start of the second half, there are still concerns on that front. It was also a frustrating day for a couple of Pioneers – Jake Krafka only scored two points and fouled out late in the game. Ade Murkey was only 2-9 from the field and had only five points to go with four turnovers. He did have 8 rebounds though and that huge steal at the end, even if he wasn’t able to stay in bounds. So while there were some negatives, it was definitely an overall positive performance from Denver.
That leads into Denver’s next game – a very winnable matchup against Omaha on Valentine’s Day at 7 PM. A win would get the Pioneers to 6-6 in the conference with a good shot at the 3 seed in the conference tournament. Denver will be favored and based on their recent performances, I’m expecting another good game and another victory. You may remember Denver’s last game against Omaha, where a fluke three sent the game to OT and ended up handing Denver a painful loss. Coach Billups is eager to get another shot at them: “I’m excited about it, I’m certainly going to learn from this game tomorrow, and watch this game with the team on Monday, but certainly we’ll be ready for Omaha.”