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.
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.
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.”