Denver (1-0, 0-0) looked to be coasting against Regis (D2, RMAC Conference) in the second half with a 15 point advantage but the Rangers came storming back. After Regis closed the gap, it took two Payton Moore free throws with four seconds left to give DU a three-point lead and a desperation three-point heave from Ilisia Washington clanked off the rim for a 68-65 Denver win.
Denver had to overcome a 25 point barrage from Regis’ Brian Dawson, 16 total turnovers and an inexperienced lineup that had never played a regular-season game together along with a number of new teammates and new coaching staff. The win marked head coach Jeff Wulbrun’s first win as a college head coach.
WHY WE LOVE SPORTS
What a cool moment after the game for HC @JeffWulbrun
— Denver Men's Basketball (@DU_MensHoops) November 10, 2021
Considering the changes on the floor and to the basketball staff for the Pioneers, it was easy to predict an uneven performance in DU’s first game together. The players faced a lively Hamilton Gym crowd, a raucous DU student section and a lively contingent of fans from Regis University who cheered on the visiting Rangers.
Denver started the first half with a 9-0 run leading to a Regis timeout. Denver looked athletic and quick in the half but could never pull away from the Rangers. Juco transfer Jordan Johnson’s 8 points led Denver to a 34-27 halftime advantage.
In the second half, Brian Dawson led the comeback for the Rangers and kept Regis in the game along with teammate Kevin Ebiriekwe’s 10 rebounds and 10 points. K.J. Hunt’s 17 points led Denver along with 6 defensive rebounds and 2 steals to keep the visitors at bay until the final moments of the contest. Hunt’s stat line was spoiled with 7 turnovers which allowed the Rangers to stay close to the Pioneers in the second half but Denver never relinquished the lead.
Denver’s scoring, a concern heading into the season, may not be a major issue with K.J. Hunt, Jordan Johnson, Tevin Smith and Payton Moore looking like legitimate scoring threats. The Pioneers still must clean up their team defense which allowed some easy drives to the baskets and unnecessary reach-in fouls. While Denver had nice size up-front in Mikey Henn, Touko Tainamo and Pedro Lopez-Sanvicente, the trio could only manufacture 12 points while Tristan Green went scoreless. In order to open up the perimeter on offense during the season, this group must increase their offensive production.
The LetsGoDU season preview made it clear that better days are ahead for Denver basketball but it will take time and patience. That being said, tonight was an important first step for Denver men’s basketball to enjoy a win in their first game together.