Denver men’s basketball (8-1) continues to make history while showing that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Absent two of their best players, Coban Porter (season-ending) and Tevon Smith (unclear), the talent on this season’s squad was on full display Sunday afternoon. Denver needed their deep roster at Hamilton gym and delivered a thrilling 84-75 victory against Texas A&M Commerce (4-5). The score was much closer than the final score indicated and coach Jeff Wulbrun acknowledged his team “gutted out a win in (what felt like) a one-possession game”.
The game went back and forth in the first half and ended, 39-35, with The ‘Merce in the lead. Denver had trouble against the swarming ‘Merce defense and allowed some easy buckets in the paint. Denver was outshot 55% to 42% but stayed close with a 13 rebound advantage. Justin Mullins led the DU scoring with 11 points and Touko Tainamo tallied 8 in the half. Denver’s leaky defense needed to be shored up at halftime. “It was a grind for 40 minutes. Never at any point did our guys look discouraged, especially on defense, after the first half. We’re not losing our poise”, stated Wulbrun
The game went from fast-pace to electric in the second half as each team was putting out maximum effort. And yes, Hamilton Gym is drawing good crowds that helped to bolster the Pioneers second-half surge.
The second half was all about improved Pioneer defense, especially in the paint. Veterans Tommy Bruner and Tyree Corbett stood tall and faced down the scrappy and aggressive ‘Merce. Marko Lucic came up big in place of the injured Tevin Smith with 14 points and freshman Justin Mullins scored 16 in the physical contest. DU’s big men both were in double figures in scoring but it was their 15 rebounds along with 27 others by their teammates that led Denver, especially in the second half. Texas A&M Commerce kept in the game with 35 bench points to Denver’s 12. Ultimately, it was a thunder dunk with a minute to go from Tyree Corbett that gave Denver some breathing room with a 9-point margin. Then, veteran Tommy Bruner hit free-throw-after-three-throw, eight in a row down the stretch, guiding Denver to their eighth win in nine games. “Tommy continues to improve. His poise and composure – every game we play is close”, said Wulbrun. “He’s so good late in games. We’re lucky to have him.”
Sunday was the launching pad for what should be an intriguing week where we will learn even more about this team. A unique non-conference home-and-home rematch on the road will give the Pioneers a chance at redemption against Sacramento State (73-69 loss) Wednesday. A road tilt Saturday against UCLA at historic Pauley Pavillion will be another test. DU’s last game against a nationally ranked team, Gonzaga, ended up in a humiliating 101-40 drubbing. Can DU play a competitive game against the PAC-12 powerhouse – not win, mind you. Just compete. That will be another show of progress.
A great crowd. An exciting win. Yes, eight feels great!