Photo: Rodney Billups with leading scorers Ade Murkey and Jase Townsend
It looked like the Pioneers were going to be blown out early. Down by as many as 18 points during the contest, a young Pioneer squad, on the back of solid defense, clawed their way back to make it a game in the final minute of play before falling New Mexico State, 72-67, at Magness Arena.
In the first half, Denver (4-7) fell into an early hole, 23-8, and it looked like a mismatch against the Aggies, who were on the verge of running DU out of their own building. But Denver settled down and fought back the rest of the night. The Pioneers crept within 11 at halftime but the fireworks were delayed until the final five minutes of the game.
Denver kept in contact with New Mexico State during the first 15 minutes of the second half. Denver employed solid defense and trailed NMSU by 10 points with five minutes to go. A Jase Townsend 3-point shot, a Robert Jones layup and free throws by Ade Murkey made it a one possession game. With 18 seconds to go, trailing by only three points 70-67, DU’s Roscoe Eastmond drove to the basket, sunk a driving basket and was fouled. Pushed in the back, Eastmond made contact with a New Mexico player under the basket and the officials called it a charge on Eastmond – no basket. Since NMSU was in the double bonus, New Mexico’s Shunn Buchanan sunk two free throws and the game was over, 72-67.
With the questionable call, Denver lost their only chance to draw even with the Aggies.
For the game, Denver continued to struggle on the offensive end, shooting 45.6% to the Aggies’ 50% from the field. Denver also cooled off NMSU’s sizzling 43.75% shooting from the arc in the first half to only 16.7% in the second half. DU also won the turnover battle, 19-15. Jase Townsend scored 29 points to lead the Pioneers, with half of his points coming from downtown (5/7). Senior Ade Murkey had 22 points, four rebounds and four steals with a very solid all-around floor game. DU gave up 40 of NMSU’s 67 points in the paint.
Overall, this was an encouraging game that shows a vast defensive improvement over last season. Denver can make stops on the defensive end. If only Denver can get off to better starts in games and generate more consistent offense, the Pioneers have a chance to win more games like this going forward.