With a chance to go to the Summit League finals on the line, the Denver Pioneers came out and played one of their worst games of the season – it was a disappointing end to an up and down season that seemed before tonight like it might have a little bit of magic left in it. It wasn’t meant to be though, as a combination of terrible shooting, turnovers, and not enough defense gave Denver no chance to even keep the game close.
The first half started in somewhat predictable fashion, with Coyotes star Matt Mooney scoring the first 4 points to give USD an early lead. Denver would grab a 5-4 lead with 15:45 to go in the first half though and it looked like maybe they would be able to hang around all game. Instead, Mooney made a basket and then Triston Simpson scored five straight to give South Dakota an 11-5 lead and put Denver on shaky ground early. It didn’t get better from there – USD would continue to push their run to 22-4 and make the score 26-9 at the 9:18 mark. Denver was unable to respond and the Coyotes just kept pushing, getting the lead to 47-25 at halftime. A 22 point halftime deficit was just about the worst case scenario and the Pios knew at halftime they would need a miracle to even get back in it.
Denver did score the first four points of the half, but Mooney would respond with a three and a jumper and the Coyotes didn’t have to sweat at all after that. The South Dakota lead would balloon all the way up to 26 points, when it was 69-43 with 5:12 to go. The Pioneers would end the game on a 15-7 run to get the final score to a somewhat respectable 76-58, but the outcome was never in doubt at the end of the game. It was a frustrating game, especially to end the season, and it highlighted a lot of the problems that we have seen throughout the season from Denver.
The shocking takeaway from the stat sheet is the shooting lines. Denver shot 22-67 (32.8%) from the field and an astonishingly poor 3-20 (15.0%) from three point land. On top of that they allowed the Coyotes to shoot 29-55 (52.7%) from the field and 8-18 (44.4%) from three point land. And, as we’ve seen all season, they once again had double digit turnovers, giving the ball up 12 times. Joe Rosga unfortunately picked a bad time to have his worst game of the year, shooting 2-13 and 1-7 on threes. Daniel Amigo had 16 points in his final game as a Pioneer, though it took 16 shots to get it in what must have been a frustrating game for him. Elvin Rodriguez was also quite off this evening, shooting 1-6, a disappointing end to his freshman season, though I believe his future is bright.
It’s hard to take a glass half full approach after a defeat like this, but there were some positives. Amigo had 12 rebounds in addition to his 16 points, adding another double double to his Denver career. Abiola Akintola and Christian Mackey both had nice bench performances, combining to shoot 4-5 for eight points, and Akintola added 4 rebounds. If you really stretch, you could say that Denver outrebounded USD 41-34, but that was more a product of Denver missing so many shots and having chances to grab offensive rebounds. The team also shot 11-13 from the free throw line, something that didn’t impact this game but will be important next year.
As I said, and as I think we all feel, this was a pretty bad ending to the 2017-2018 season. Denver had a thrilling win last night, though it took 2 OTs, and there was some hope, faint as it may have been, that the Pios could make a run and make the NCAA tournament. Instead, we end the season with a double digit defeat in a game that wasn’t ever even close. Denver finishes the season with a 15-15 record, five wins short of the 20 wins that Coach Billups set as his goal before the season. However, the team had their best Summit League finish since joining the league, and were on a five game winning streak before tonight’s defeat. The sting of the loss is still a bit raw, but we’ll have a full season review in the coming days – there were a lot of ups and downs, but overall I am optimistic about the direction that Coach Billups is taking the program.