Denver Storms Back but Falls Short Against Air Force, 66-65

Colorado Springs – Denver men’s basketball (3-4, 0-0) traveled to Colorado Springs to face Air Force (5-1) in a Wednesday matinee game. After falling behind by 23 points, Denver used a torrid second half, outscoring the Falcons 40-19, but Taelyr Gatlin missed a last-second shot as the Pioneers fell 66-65.

Former DU bench boss Joe Scott who guided DU hoops 2007-2016 was on the sidelines guiding AFA. Prior to the game, Scott told The Gazette that this was, “just another game.” And frankly, it feels like ancient history since  Scott was prowling the sidelines for the Crimson & Gold.

Scott, often intense, was no more expressive than his counterpart, Jeff Wulbrun, on the day.

The first half showed the true beauty of the Princeton offense as Scott has had three years to teach his Falcons how to run the intricate system. The inside-out offense relies on cutters moving to the basket rubbing off picks and screens for easy baskets. Then, as defenses collapse to defend against easy buckets, the Falcons find open three-point shots.  The first half ended 47-25 with the Falcons carving up the Pioneers with seven 3-point shots made and 22 points in the paint accounting for 43 of their 47 points. The Pioneers looked confused as the Falcons threatened to run them out of the gym.

The Pioneers regrouped but it was still all AFA early in the second half. A layup by the Falcons Jake Heidbreder three minutes into the second half gave AFA their largest lead of the day, 23 points, at 52-29. Despite the deficit, Denver came storming back on tenacious defense and an opportunistic offense. Denver went with two bigs, Mikey Henn and Touko Tainama, to clog up the middle and score in the paint to whittle away at the Falcons double-digit margin. A Mikey Henn 3-point make took the lead to single digits, 60-51. Clune Arena grew restless as Henn and KJ Hunt sank free throws to start another Pioneer run.  A dunk by Payton Moore pulled Denver within 4 points. Taelyr Gatlin hit a three-point shot to make it a one-point game.  Two Mikey Henn free throws gave DU the lead, 65-64, with  49 seconds left. Air Force followed with two free throws to retake the lead with 30.8 seconds to go. Following a timeout by DU, in the waning seconds, the Falcon defense forced the ball into Tealyr Gatlins’s hands on the wing for a potential game-winner at :01. Unfortunately, the final shot of the afternoon could only find the lower net. Final, 66-65, Falcons.

Mikey Henn played an outstanding game with 16 points and 9 rebounds. KJ Hunt scored 15 points and pulled down five rebounds. Jordan Johnson was outstanding at the point for the Pioneers and ran the offense during the comeback while playing 34 minutes.

Scott and Wulbrun exchanged greetings prior to Wednesday afternoon’s game.

Postgame, Jeff Wulbrun praised the “second half passion” by his squad and cited that as a characteristic of championship teams – but it must be sustained for the full 40 minutes he told Tyler Maun, Denver’s play-by-play announcer. He concluded, “I am not into moral victories.”


5 thoughts on “Denver Storms Back but Falls Short Against Air Force, 66-65”

  1. I watched today’s game, and that Falcon opponent was a good, well-drilled, now 5-1 AFA team playing at home.

    I am not into moral victories, either, but I was impressed with DU’s big second half comeback. Not easy to chip away on the road into 23 point deficit. But they did it, and it wasn’t just KJ Hunt. Henn played his best game, and Jordan Johnson, Payton Moore and Tevin Smith were also effective.

    DU has suffered three of its losses so far by a total of four points, and we can see that there is clearly some talent and some character on this team…They just need more roster members capable of being effective D-I ball players, especially in the front court, as DU isn’t going to win a lot of games with just the four guards and Henn producing…Hopefully, one or two of the taller Euro new players – Tanaimo, Motta or Lopez-Sanvincente will turn into solid D-I players, as I’m not sure Travis Green is going to get there.

  2. LOL…sugar coat DU Basketball all you want, but the fact is this program is just about the worst D1 program in any sport, not just basketball. I mean, they lost to a NAIA program. What a joke….

  3. Nobody is sugar-coating here. We’ve suffered for years watching bad hoops. We’re just noting that progress being made before our eyes. Last year was 2-19, and DU was being blown out in many many games with an uncompetitive team with little hope of improvement.

    This year is 3-5 – a 50% increase in wins already and we’re still in November, and the loss margins have mostly been razor-thin. That’s better basketball. Are we planning for NCAA tourney bids, parades and glory? Of course not. Was the NAIA loss embarrassing? Yes it was. Deeply so. And do the players and coaches feel embarrassed? I’m sure they did.

    But we’re now seeing DU stepping up and battling winning D-I teams down to the final shot. Progress is not always linear or immediate. This coach has had all of one shortened recruiting cycle and has had to turnover an entire starting roster with new faces. There will be more losses this season, to be sure.

    But the product is improving, and it’s okay to applaud improvement as well as wins…

    1. I agree with Puck. It will take a few years but at least coach seems to be making improvements (unlike the last staff).

      Glad to see Coach Scott get the W and I hope the PIOs keep improving…the wins will start coming in

  4. Fighting to the last shot after being down 20+ to a solid opponent is all I want to see with this team. If they can consistently scrap for the entirety of a game they will find a handful of wins, especially in the Summit. It’s already looking like this season will be a small step in the right direction, even if they did lose to an NAIA team.

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