On paper, the Denver (9-18, 5-9) – South Dakota State (22-4, 13-0) basketball game Thursday night was a mismatch. The Jackrabbits were ranked #78 in the NET Rankings and DU was #294 and a double-digit underdog at home. Plus, Denver was missing two of their top players in KJ Hunt and Jordan Johnson due to the COVID-19 protocol. Denver battled SDSU straight up for the first 20 minutes but ran out of gas the second half against the hot-shooting Jackrabbits.
Denver got out to an 8-4 lead on two threes from Taelyr Gatlin and basket by Touko Tainamo. Five minutes into the half, Douglas Wilson hit two free throws to give SDSU the lead, 11-10. Coban Porter caught fire over the next five minutes and Mikey Henn tied the game, 22-22, at 10:21. Denver went up on the visitors, 31-29, behind two Taelyrn Gatlin three-point shots and a Coban Porter tray with 5:49 remaining and a media timeout. A three-point make by Matt Mimms with 55 seconds remaining gave SDSU the lead, 35-33, but Tevin Smith nailed a bucket at the buzzer to draw even, 35-35. Denver shot 46% to SDSU’s 50% from the field during an evenly played first half. Taelyr Gatlin had an excellent first half in place of Jordan Johnson directing the offense and scoring.
Opening the second half, the teams traded buckets until the four-minute media break, 46-45, DU. A Tristan Green block and two Taelyr Gatlin buckets highlighted the early going but fatigue was soon to set in for the outmanned Pioneers. The Jackrabbits went on a run over the next five minutes, leading 55-48 with 12 minutes remaining. Over the next three minutes, the Jackrabbit lead ballooned to 68-48, mostly on open three-point shots, with 8:50 remaining. A Pedro Lopez Sanvicente three-point make finally stopped the bleeding, 68-51, with 7:39 remaining. Over the next six minutes, Denver was outscored 16-5 as SDSU finished the run with three consecutive threes, to lead 84-56. At that point, SDSU coasted to the finish line for the win, 84-61.
SDSU’s inside-out game was too much for the shorthanded Pioneers. The Jackrabbits are the best shooting three-point team in the country and it showed on 16-28 makes for 57% shooting from beyond the arc. They had an exhausted Denver team chasing the ball the second half and the Jackrabbits took advantage of their open looks with precision strikes. The Jackrabbits got 27 points off their bench with Matt Mims 15 points, all from downtown, inflicting major damage to Denver’s chances. Big Douglas Wilson scored 18 points down low for SDSU. Coban Porter had 18 points for Denver but faced a stingy defense in the second half. Taelyr Gatlin had an excellent game in relief of Jordan Johnson with 11 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in 31 minutes. Gatlin’s senior experience showed that he could be a solid asset down the stretch for DU.
Watching the Jackrabbits empty their bench and celebrate on the DU court is an important reminder to this team that there is still work to be done. This one needs to be filed away, remembered and the favor returned at a future date. That day can’t come soon enough – but it won’t be easy against the best program in the Summit League.