DENVER – Last year in Provo, Utah, the Utah Valley Wolverines smashed the Denver Pioneers by 23 points on the way to a blistering 25-10 season. This year, though, the return game was in Denver and the Pioneers were ready for the Wolverines, as DU rode sophomore Joseph Lanzi’s 20-point career-high performance to a 74-62 home opening victory at Magness Arena in a game that wasn’t as close as the 12-point margin of victory.
The Pioneers used platoons of players to stay fresh and won the bench point battle, 32-14, outscored UVU 43-34 in the paint, and went 7-for-10 in clutch three-point shooting (all in the second half) to pull away for a big home opening win at Magness Arena.
“I liked our ability to stay connected,” said DU coach Rodney Billups after the game. “Our bench was energetic for the entire 40 minutes and that’s what we need to be good.”
DU improved to 1-1 on the young season while Utah Valley fell to 1-1.
Lanzi went 8-for-9 from the field, keying the Pioneer win, particularly in the second half, when DU needed some separation from the more experienced Wolverines. The Alabama native was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond the 3 point arc, scoring three consecutive treys in the second half to break open a close game and fuel DU’s biggest rally of the day, an 11-point run in the second half that sealed the victory. Sophomore Jase Townsend chipped in 18 points and five rebounds and senior, Ade Murkey led the Pioneers on the glass with six rebounds to go along with three assists and nine points.
“When we ran our sets, we got open looks,” said Lanzi of DU’s 48% shooting performance. “My teammates were able to find me in transition. We also made some defensive stops, and when we put those [two] together, it helped us win.”
The Wolverines were led by Brandon Averette who had a team-high 17 points.
Utah Valley came out strong and was able to hold the lead through the opening 10 minutes of play. Denver took over with 10:32 remaining in the half following a layup from David Nzekwesi. With two deadlocked scores at 22 and 26, the Pioneers used a 6-0 run to take a 32-26 lead. Consecutive layups from DU and a free throw as time expired, sent Denver into halftime holding a 39-30 advantage.
Utah Valley used six points early in the second half to cut the deficit to 41-37 and continued the momentum into a 5-0 run to tie things at 43. A Taelyr Gatlin three pointer and a jumper form Murkey helped re-establish the Pios lead at 51-50. Back-to-back triples from Lanzi propelled Denver to a seven point lead at 57-50 before the Crimson and Gold exploded for a 12-4 run to take a 69-55 lead with 2:44 remaining, driving them to a 74-62 victory.
The Pios will return to action in Logan, Utah on Tuesday to face their biggest test of the season so far against no. 19 Utah State (7 PM MT).
Thanks to Jason Evans for the photos and quotes in this story