Denver’s Season Comes to an End After a Crushing 76-58 defeat Against South Dakota

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.

10 thoughts on “Denver’s Season Comes to an End After a Crushing 76-58 defeat Against South Dakota”

  1. Agree with your summary Chris. I think DU’s legs were gone after back-to-back nights. The shooting is the first to go and defense next when the legs are shot. Surely, a finish in the top 2 seeds is a must to have any chance against SD or SDSU in the future. That should be the goal for next season.

    With at least 5 new recruits coming, the team will be younger, faster and more athletic. But, they will need to pick up the slack left by Daniel Amigo and Jake Pemberton and a few other players departing the program.

    A tough way to end the season but there is always next year. Go Pios.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Emil Knighton is graduating and Jake Holtzman is headed to dental school. Thomas Neff and Elijah Blake were injured early but healthy scratches so who knows. Plus, these days a number of athletes transfer out – 700+ per year. I do not have any secrets here, just the way it is in hoops today.

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  2. I was so pumped when Pios responded to make it 5-4, but yeah, their legs were gone. The play most emblematic of that was when Pemberton whipped the outlet pass beyond Rosga’s reach. One minor complaint, I would’ve like to have seen the deeper bench around the 12 minute mark of the first half rather than the same point of the second half. I don’t think it mattered, Coyotes are a good team and Mooney is a dynamic player.

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  3. This one was over early. Pios looked tired, the shots weren’t falling, and it snowballed from there.

    Hopefully the team has a good off season and continues to improve heading into next season.

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  4. Tough season ending for the Pios. We knew they would be tired both physically and emotionally after double OT the night before in the win over ORU, and fatigue showed up early vs USD. They were never in this game, and the season ends at 15-15 – the very definition of mediocrity.

    I think this season will be looked upon as the mixed bag that it was. We had some wonderful basketball moments to enjoy – the obliteration of USD at Magness was the season highlight for me, and Rosga’s great shot to tie ORU on Monday was the second best moment. A third place finish was more than appropriate, and we also enjoyed the seven-for-nine run to end the regular season, which showed progress and growth.

    We will also miss the seniors – Amigo, Pemberton, Mackey and Knighton. Amigo was the best DU big man since Yemi Nicholson in the mid 2000s. Mackey was a enthusiastic guy that always gave his best and provided needed size to a program not known for wide-bodies.Pemberton was the best defensive forward at DU since Chase Hallam. And Knighton will be missed for his academics, attitude and spirit.

    All that said, there was a lot of bad basketball, too. A team that never really learned to stop turning the ball over was the dominant reason this team ended at 15-15. There was the horrendous non-league season, where DU was non-factor. And there was Billups prediction of a 20 win season, which was clearly off the mark. Finally, there were dwindling crowds at Magness this year, and the newness of the Billups hire has gone away.

    Next year, we will see a younger DU team. Rosga is the only returning star caliber player, and the rest are D-I role players and new guys that will need to carve out their own identities. We’ll have to wait and see how they gel…

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  5. One hears discussions about how Denver (and Colorado in general) are not basketball hotbeds, and that this makes it difficult to establish success here. OK…I guess. But we are in a major city that has a great reputation—kids want to come to school here for many reasons. Yet we are apparently getting out recruited by various schools in North Dakota and South Dakota with no stellar basketball traditions, no geographical advantages, no academic advantages, no facilities advantages, and no spending-on-athletics advantages. That is really kind of amazing. This, and the fact that we cannot win a league that is comprised of some no-name schools in no-name states. I’m not trying to be harsh on the current team or coaches. Just pointing out how weird it is, that the basketball program of the best non-football school in the country can’t make the tournament while playing in the Summit league. It’s especially weird for a sport in which there are only 5 people playing at a time. Getting just 3-4 players that are significantly better than the players who go to North and South Dakota schools would give a big competitive advantage. But DU can’t manage that. Just weird, I tell ya.

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    1. kind of a chicken/egg thing; denver is a great school/city but the stands are empty for hoops so why would a kid wanna play in an arena with no fans for a team that has never made tourney. winning helps for sur ebut maybe if the athletics dept had a clue about marketing and could get a decent crowd to watch D1 basketball in a major market they could attract better recruits.

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  6. You make interesting points, certainly. DU has been trying to solve the basketball puzzle for many years now, and has never gotten beyond a handful of NIT berths, while other sports at DU are national competitors. With 350 schools and big schools spending north of $10 million on hoops, DU will never be Duke. But we are the biggest spending school in the Summit League at $3 million-ish, and the ROI just isn’t there yet.

    How do the Dakota schools do it when we can’t?

    Here is my take:

    1) HOOPS PRIMACY AT STATE FLAGSHIP SCHOOLS: These Dakota schools carry more interest in their areas because they represent their entire states and engage not just alums and locals, but their casual sports fans. Basketball matters at these schools as the primary winter sport. They have better attendance, better media coverage and more people care about them than basketball at DU, which is probably sport #25 in the Denver market. DU is a small private buried in an oversaturated sports city.

    2) PRETTY GOOD LEAGUE: Summit league sounds rinky-dink, but it actually isn’t. The league is #17 in RPI this year, which is mid-pack nationally, not sad sack. Summit Teams beat Big 10 schools like Iowa and Indiana on the road this year.

    3) LOWER STANDARDS: One of the biggest advantage the Dakota schools have over DU is lower academic standards. They can accept a lot of kids that DU cannot, and college basketball has a lot of good players who are not great students. The Dakota Schools also take more Juco students, which DU tends not to do.

    4) BACK YARD LEAGUE TOURNEY ADVANTAGE: The Dakota schools will always have the league tourney in their backyard – there were 11,000 people in the building to see them play last night in Sioux Falls. No other city in the league footprint could produce that level of interest. That also means that other schools will have a hard time getting to the NCAAs, while the Dakota schools have that inside track to the dance.

    5) SMALL TOWN vs BIG CITY: A lot of good small town kids play basketball, and they might feel more comfortable playing in small places like Brookings, Vermillion and Fargo. Denver, for some, is a very big place. But unlike the other big cities that produce great players, Denver’s basketball talent pool is very poor. DU has to go elsewhere to find most of its players.

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