Denver (6-1) went 3-0 in the 2nd Annual Big Easy Classic, finishing off New Orleans (3-3) Friday afternoon without star guard Tevin Smith. It wasn’t easy but this season’s Pioneers do not shy away from solving close games as the Privateers blinked first going down the stretch.
Denver jumped out to a 5-0 lead and a Marko Lukic lay-up put Denver up 9-5 five minutes into the game. A Tommy Bruner three and Touko Tainamo jumper along with a Justin Mullins layup put Denver up 16-5 at the midway point of the first half. With eight minutes to go in the first half, Denver earned their biggest lead of 12 points, 21-9. A pair of K’mani Doughty free throws with two minutes remaining cut the DU lead below double digits, 33-24. New Orleans continued to carve the Pioneer lead to 5 points at the break, 35-30.
Denver started the second half strong, capped by Justin Mullins dunk to take a 39-30 lead. A familiar foe, former DU player Jordan Johnson, brought the Privateers back over the next five minutes with a 3-point play and closed the margin to three, 51-48. DU’s Lukas Kisunas fouled out at 9:35, leaving Touko Tainamo to guard the middle. At 6:31, Justin Mullins scored his 21st point as Denver regained the lead 58-57. Denver held a two-point lead heading into the final five minutes. A layup by UNO’s Tyson Jackson tied the game with a minute to go, 71-71. Six straight free throws by Tommy Bruner and a stingy Pioneer defense held off the Privateers down the stretch. The Pioneers needed every single point as New Orleans’ Khaleb Wilson-Rouse finished with a three-point bucket as time expired, one point short, to secure the 77-76 Denver win.
Denver shot 53.3% for the game to UNO’s 50%. It was Denver’s 19 turnovers that kept the Privateers close but the Pioneers forced 18 miscues. Denver was outrebounded 29-28. Freshman Justin Mullins scored 27 points along with 4 rebounds. Tommy Bruner guided the shorthanded Pioneers down the stretch with 19 points and 5 assists.
Denver has some time now to rest from the three-day, three-game tournament and return to action against Houston Christian Thursday at 7:00 pm MT in Houston. No word yet on Tevin Smith’s injured knee.