It surely wasn’t easy. Sophomore Jase Townsend nailed three clutch free throws with a second in regulation to force overtime with Oral Roberts. Then, senior leader Ade Murkey fouled-out a minute and a half into overtime but the scrappy Pioneers still prevailed, 100-96, against the visiting Golden Eagles.
The University of Denver (6-22, 2-12 Summit League) played the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles Thursday night at Hamilton Gym. Denver, losers of seven straight games heading into the night, needed a win to keep any hope of making it into the Summit League Tournament.
Denver jumped out to a 25-14 advantage in the first 10 minutes of the game on 9/15 shooting from the floor (60%). But, DU’s shooting cooled off the next ten minutes and ORU pulled within three points in the final minute of the half. DU had the ball and the shot clock with a 3-point lead with time running out in the first half but Taelyr Gatlin launched a 3-point try with 10 seconds left and missed. The Golden Eagles got the rebound and drove down the court for a last-second buzzer-beater by Sam Kearns to tie the game at 42-42. This was a brutal error for a fragile team heading into the break. DU’s David Nzekwesi’s brother, Emmanuel Nzekwesi, owned the first half with 14 points and 7 rebounds – and finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds.
Denver had a shaky start to the second half with DU’s big, Robert Jones, picking up his third foul at 15:46 with ORU leading by four, 48-44. Denver started to crack and were quickly down by 10 points with 15 minutes remaining. Denver continued to trail over the net ten minutes until the 5-minute mark when a Kevin Obanor layup gave the visitors a 76-66 lead. But three lay-ups, two by Ade Murkey and one by Robert Jones and a tomahawk dunk by Murkey drew Denver within two points, 78-76, at 2:36. Denver finally took the lead when Alperen Kurnaz nailed a 3-point bucket and gave Denver the advantage, 79-78. The teams traded buckets but ORU started to pull away once again. The Golden Eagles built a 3-point lead off a pair of free throws with three seconds left. Denver sprinted down the court and Jase Townsend hoisted up a shot that missed from beyond the arc – but he was fouled. He sunk three pressure-packed free throws and the game went to OT, 90-90.
Photo: The Denver bench watches the tight game in overtime.
In OT, Ade Murkey fouled out early but an Alperen Kurnaz lay-up and two free throws by Robert Jones gave DU a 4-point advantage. Townsend took over from there with a layup and a free throw to contribute to a 100-96 advantage. ORU missed a 3-point try with two seconds left but the game was over, 100-96.
Ade Murkey ended up with 26 points and 6 rebounds. Jase Townsend had his best game as a Pioneer, battling painful plantar fasciitis, with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Freshman Robert Jones had to battle Emmanuel Nzekwesi all night and ended up with 16 points and 4 rebounds on the night.
After the game, an excited and relieved head coach Rodney Billups said it all, “It was a game we had to have.”