For 20 minutes, DU (4-14, 0-4) looked like a well-oiled machine as the Pioneers jumped out to 46-37 halftime lead over South Dakota State. DU shot 61.3% for the half and had only three turnovers. It was clearly Denver’s best half of the season. But in the second half, DU shooting went stone cold (6-32, 18.8%) and 0-11 from downtown. SDSU was in the free throw bonus with more than 11 minutes to go in the game on calls that went the Jackrabbits way. As the fouls piled up on DU’s big men, SDSU punished Denver inside with 24 points-in-the-paint. In the final four minutes, leading by 3 points, SDSU outscored Denver 17 to 5 to seal the 80-68 victory.
Forward Douglas Wilson, a two-time NJCAA All-American, did most of the damage for the Jackrabbits with 31 points and 8 rebounds. Ade Murkey and Jase Townsend led DU with 17 and 15 points respectively along with 3 rebounds each. Freshman Robert Jones played his most solid game this season with 11 points and 11 rebounds. And, Taelyr Gaitlin scored 11 points for the Pioneers despite being hobbled with a lower body injury which occurred in the first half.
The effort continues to be there for this year’s Denver team. Unfortunately, they do not have the confidence or experience to close out games, especially on the offensive end. And, other teams will continue to take advantage of Denver, believing that Denver will eventually succumb to the pressure until the Pioneers prove otherwise. It will take mental toughness and more floor time for this young squad to fight their way out of this troubling pattern.
After the game, head coach Rodney Billups said, “We need to stay together. If the officiating is going to be that bad in our building, we need to stay together. We played well in the first half – made stops and made shots. But, the officiating was so one-sided it was hard to get in a flow (27 free throws for SDSU). They either made baskets or went to the free throw line. We need to go on the road and get one (a win) at Western Illinois this weekend.”