Fort Wayne Mastodons Race by DU, 70-63

Photo: Courtesy of Jason Evans

Twenty-seven percent shooting from the field and twelve first-half turnovers put the Denver Pioneers (5-20, 1-10 Summit League) in a deep hole, 38-19. The Pioneers trailed by as many as 22 points in the second half and cut the Mastodons lead below double digits with 1:25 remaining in the contest. But Denver could never get closer than 6 points in the game, only hitting 10-22 free throws (42%) and throwing the ball away 17 times to Fort Wayne’s 12. DU reported Hamilton Gym with 1,080 spectators in attendance.

Breakout DU sophomore Jase Townsend seemed to be pressing all afternoon and went an uncharacteristic 5-15 from the field with 4 turnovers. Ade Murkey, consistent all season, struggled as well with only 9 points and 5 rebounds. Freshman forward Tristan Green was off in this game as well going 1-4 from 3-point range, 2-5 from the field while turning the ball over 3 times and committing 4 fouls.  The bright spot for DU was freshman big-man Robert Jones with 13 points and 9 rebounds, most in the second half. Another freshman, Roscoe Eastmond, has a nice game with 6 points, 6 assists, and 5 steals with 3 turnovers.

Nine minutes into the first half, Fort Wayne’s Brian Patrick hit a 3-point jumper off a steal. The Mastodons followed that with a Jarred Godfrey lay-up and a pair of free throws to go up 24 – 13. They built on that advantage the final five minutes of the first-half to hold a 19 point lead at break.

Denver shot better in the second half, finishing with 44% shooting for the afternoon but the damage was done. A 3-point shot by Jase Townsend and two free throws by Tristan Green finally brought the Pioneers within 9 points, 66-57, with 1:25 remaining. But, it was too little, too late for the Pioneers.

The pep band was present for the contest and added some much-needed energy. In this writer’s view, with only 800-1,200 spectators, Hamilton Gym offers a much more intimate, entertaining venue than a large, empty Magness Arena. Unfortunately, the results were the same.


14 thoughts on “Fort Wayne Mastodons Race by DU, 70-63”

  1. Question … will DU’s Summit League opponents start to object to playing in the gym? I am curious.

  2. I don’t think anyone likes this but the DU accountants.

    DU spent $85 million to build the Ritchie Center, and they choose to play in a high school gym atmosphere in Hamilton.

  3. After the game, Billups confirmed that this was a players decision. He said he preferred playing in Magness but the players persuaded him to play in Hamilton – where they practice. Assuming this is true, it was not a cost decision.

    1. correct, the players to practice in Hamilton. I think the players are open to any option to give a shot in the arm to this season currently on life support. I suspect many of these young men have already ‘checked out’ and not giving their 100% on and off the court. Going through the motions at this stage…

  4. Here is a thought. The University of Denver should not be humbled into playing on their practice court to lose against the mighty iufw fort wayne mastedons. Dude…this is not good.

  5. Well, the venue change didn’t exactly do wonders. Pios were doomed by a very poor start–lots of missed shots, missed free throws, and turnovers. They did claw back in the 2nd half and started making shots and made things interesting, to their credit, but it was too little, too late.

    Two home games remaining. Figure DU has two more realistic opportunities to get another W.

  6. In my view, the DU players should not have a say, let alone primacy in the decision, in where the team plays its home games. What if the hockey team suddenly wanted to play its games at Joy Burns Arena?

    Division I athletics is about Universities putting their best foot forward, by showcasing student athletes to the community in the best venue they can afford. DU has an excellent D-I arena, and they should use it. Hamilton Gym looks like a nice high school gym, and the fan optics look like DU has given up on being a D-I program.

    1. Completely agree. I don’t understand the rationale and thought process behind letting the players make this decision. Players play, coaches coach, and coaches and/or administrators should be making these decisions. To me, it gives off an impression of “the inmates are running the asylum” type arrangement. Let the players speak their minds and offer their perspectives. No problem with that. But at the end of the day, they shouldn’t be dictating these types of decisions.

  7. Terrible decision to move into a high school venue and then have another embarrassing loss to a team with RPI > 300. Trailing by 22 to an awful team should almost never happen, and yet the bar has been set so low that it now happens with frequency. DU acting like a D2 program. We may be the lone program to be left out of the Summit conference tournament for the second year in a row. How in the hell does this happen with the likes of Western Illinois in the conference?

    Unless DU damn near runs the table and makes a run deep into the conference tourney then Billups needs to go ASAP. Keeping him on for a lame duck year only makes things much worse.

  8. I think this season is likely pretty much done for the Pios. We just have not seen enough growth and development from the sophomore class outside of Jase Townsend, and the program is paying the price in the loss column.

    Townsend is scoring almost 18 PPG (17.9), a huge 11.6-point jump from the 6.3 PPG he scored as a freshman, nearly tripling his point production. He is a player to build around, as long as he doesn’t get poached by a bigger school. I am thrilled with his development!

    But the other members of the DU sophomore class leave me scratching my head…

    David Nzekwesi has only 6.0 PPG this year, down from 8.1 PPG last year – a two point regression this season. Freshman Robert Jones has come in and outplayed Nzekwesi in the post as a freshman, out-scoring and out-rebounding Nzekwesi this year, earning more minutes than David. Nzekwesi still has the size and talent to be a dominant player in the Summit, but he’s going a bit backwards this season, which is disappointing.

    Taelyr Gatlin – 4.8 PPG this year, up from 3.1 last year — up 2 PPG, a small rise in point production. He shows flashes of brilliance at times, but is inconsistent. Roscoe Eastmond has come into the DU lineup as a freshman point guard and produced a similar point production as Gatlin in almost as many minutes.

    Alp Kurnaz – 3.5 PPG last year, up from 2.5 PPG last year up a tiny rise of 1 point per game. He’s a big body, but I don’t think we can expect much more from him. Not all recruits are going to be great college basketball players.

    Joe Lanzi [4.1 PPG this year, up from from 2.3 last year (up about 2 PPG), a small rise. Lanzi is a puzzle, like Gatlin. Not sure why he isn’t more of a factor this year.

    Tristan Green – This 6-9 transfer forward was once a top 150 HS recruit. But his debut year for the Pios has been disappointing at 2 PPG, and he has not been able to crack the lineup as much as hoped.

    Khalil Johnson – This sophomore JUCO transfer has only played 18 minutes this season. If he can’t crack a lineup for this 5-20, 1-10 DU team, he doesn’t appear to be a long term answer, either.

    Hamilton Gym is not the solution.

    Better players are the solution. I look at the sophomore class and I’d give it C-. The only thing saving it from failure is the huge growth of Townsend. Everyone else in this class has underperformed, and that’s a big reason why the assistant coaches who recruited most of them are now gone.

    When you look at the Freshmen this year – Eastmond and Jones look quite promising – that class gets a B from me. Hope to see more from McGlashan, but these guys are already making solid contributions.

  9. I think the substitution pattern – if you can even call it that – has been consistently inconsistent this year. These sophomores have been in and out, and out and in, and their confidence and rhythm is off balance. I see them either hesitating on their shots or rushing them. Some of them have a green light to do anything and others get pulled for one thing or another. I wouldn’t even attempt to graph all of it as it would look like a very irregular heartbeat. They are just not able to function as a team. The team has not even had a consistent starting 5, that seems to change like the wind too. I feel like now its just like throwing darts and hoping that something can stick. It’s just hard to watch. My heart goes out to those kids this season – we’re all adults but they’ve had a lot of change this year with coaching, injuries/suspensions, a losing record and now a venue change, And they have to go to school too.

  10. As a longtime DU hoops fan, the current state of affairs with the program is sad. (Apologies to our dearly departed former Coach Theard for the current fiasco. )

    Several things come to mind when I read the above comments. Agree, substitution pattern this season by the Coach has been inconsistent and has no no rhyme or reason. Also, as Swami fully breaks down, short of Townsend, DUs valuable scholarship picks are unfortunately underwhelming. News Flash: There is no Calvary coming to save this train-wreck of a season and its program next year. The fix is currently not on the roster or in DUs recruiting pipeline. It’s certainly in the coaches office. The inconsistent foul shooting is unacceptable. Who is responsible for recruiting these poor foul shooters ?

    With that said, it’s still hard not to feel bad for the players as they struggle to maintain their dignity through this losing season. I read with surprise that the Head Coach stated that the decision to change the home court to the practice gym was based on the players’ decision. Are you kidding me ? The leader of the program changes the teams long-time and excellent home arena for an inferior practice facility based on his players’ wishes ? Come on — standup and own this decision as you are in charge — not the players. Show leadership and strength in the face of adversity. Fight to end … do not abandon your home court when the going gets tough. And if you choose to do so, don’t hang it on your players.

    The change in gyms mid-season reminds me of last years infamous “locker-room lock-in”. For those not familiar, during last season in December, DUs coaches forced all of the players to sleep in the team’s locker-room for 3 days because they were not protecting their home court. That’s right: the team slept on cots in the locker-room without their phones and they had a bedtime curfew. Although the coaches claimed that this was a team-bonding exercise, the upperclassmen were understandably furious. In fact, three of the teams transfers from last season (2 of which were the Coach’s own recruits — Carlisle and Rodriguez) complained during their exit interviews and to fellow players that they felt mistreated during the lock-in. Compounding the indignity of the lock-in for the players were the snickers from other DU athletes that effectively told the hoops team on campus : “your team is sooo bad, your coach makes you all sleep in the locker room. Laugh”

    The point here is that the Coach (with the support of the athletic administration) has once again resorted to a gimmick to save the season. Sadly the blame for the gimmick will all be on the backs of the players’ shoulders. This time around other DU athletes are saying: “your team is sooo bad, you all decided to quit your home court and hide in your practice gym. Laugh.” This decision to change home court was not a wise move and was made worse by the Head Coach’s remarks that this was “the players decision- not mine.” Now that’s DU leadership at its finest !

  11. While I can certainly see the strong case that making the players sleep in the locker room for three days was a gimmick and may have led to the transfers, I can also see that the coaching staff was trying to address a critical need and purpose — to create more bonding on a losing team that had become fractured, due at least in part, to incoming transfers not jelling with the team members who had already been there. Would the team have been better off without the transfers coming in? Hard to say. The transfers who came in were big school-proven, higher-level recruited athletes on a team that needed a higher talent level. You can certainly see the coaches’ rationale for bringing in the transfers at the time (I think we likely all would have done it, too if we were the coaches), and the three guys who left with eligibility are now playing D-II ball, perhaps more reflective of their true talent level.

    This year, knowing the DU team would be super-young and was going to take its lumps as predicted last-place team, the coaching staff (with new assistants) tried a different tack to help the team to bond — they put the players through Navy Seal training in the preseason. A big part of that training is about sticking together through adversity, and there is ample evidence that the team has still stuck together, despite a horrendous season in which the talent and experience level is just not at the same level as the opposition.

    I guess my point here is that when things don’t go well or as planned, I do want the coaches to try to fix the problems, and clearly the staff has tried to fix the issues with chemistry-related, bonding solutions. And while we can debate the efficacy of those solutions, we can certainly see and support the better effort level we see this year.

    The biggest problems facing this program today are too much youth, coupled with a talent shortfall, due to underwhelming recruiting/player development. No amount of team bonding can cover for talent that is not yet playing at a D-I level, and results reflect that.

    And while we can all point to the head coach as being responsible for the dumpster fire in the standings and the young, under-talented team on the floor, I see a young alumnus coach who is trying very hard to learn from his mistakes, to try new solutions and fix the issues. Some of you want to the pull the plug and start fresh – I totally get that, and if the coach was a non-alum, I’d be on that same bandwagon. I am holding my nose too, but still supporting Rodney to get his full term to show more progress and coaching development. If he still can’t coach with his own upperclassmen to at least mediocrity next year, then start fresh.

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