With Fort Wayne having to end the season against South Dakota State, the math became pretty simple for the Denver Pioneers – win at Western Illinois and get sole possession of third place in the Summit League. Denver came out strong on Saturday night and did just that, crushing Western Illinois 89-52 and finishing the regular season with a 14-14 (8-6 Summit League) record. It was a dominating performance to close out a dominating end to the regular season for the Pios.
Denver got off to a hot start from the get-go, scoring the first 9 points on baskets from Jake Pemberton, Jake Krafka, and Joe Rosga to claim a 9-0 lead at the 16:48 mark. It was an early indication that Denver might just be too much for the Leathernecks tonight and that continued to hold true for the rest of the half. The high point for Western Illinois may have been when an Isaac Johnson basket cut it to 30-18 with 4:29 to go. Unfortunately for WIU, the Pioneers would end the half on a 14-0 run to secure a healthy 44-18 lead at the break.
Western Illinois tried to keep things close as the second half started, trading six points with the Pios to start things off. The Leathernecks just couldn’t keep up though, and Denver would go on a 7-0 run from there, grabbing an even more commanding 57-24 lead at the 15:37 mark. From there Denver was able to coast the rest of the way, accumulating 45 points in the second half to end the game with 89 total. It was a completely dominant performance and led to an impressive 89-52 final score, with the individual performances looking just as good as the team totals.
Joe Rosga led the way with an incredible 27 points on 10-16 shooting, including 5-9 from three point land. Daniel Amigo had 20 points while Jake Pemberton chipped in 14 and Ade Murkey had 8. Jake Krafka only had 6 points, but he grabbed 13 rebounds to really control the glass for the Pios. The team as a whole only had 7 turnovers, an impressive number for a team that has struggled in that area this season. Denver also outrebounded the Leathernecks 43-31, really showing how well rounded this dominating performance was.
There are few negative takeaways from a game like this – obviously with Rosga and Amigo scoring most of the points, the rest of the teams stat lines will look a little low, but you’ll take that every night if you can get it. Amigo had to shoot 21 times to score 20 points, which isn’t ideal, but he affects the game in other ways. Jake Holtzmann was only 1-4 from the field, but he did drain a three and grabbed a couple of rebounds. Overall, it was just a great effort by the Pios and the kind of game that you love to see as the conference tournament approaches.
Speaking of, with tonight’s win Denver finishes the Summit League season with an 8-6 record, good for sole possession of third place. Things were a bit rocky to start the year, but Denver has closed out strong and finished right where even the most optimistic of us had them – third place and over .500 in the conference. It’s a fine end to the second season of the Rodney Billups era and gives us some hope as we head to Sioux Falls. Denver is officially the #3 seed and will face #6 seed Oral Roberts on Sunday, March 4. Should the Pios win they would face the winner of #2 South Dakota/#7 Omaha. We’ll have more on that game and the Summit League conference tournament as a whole in an upcoming podcast – suffice to say, things could get interesting in Sioux Falls next week!