Denver (10-6, 1-2) met Summit League favorites, the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles (12-3, 3-0) Saturday afternoon at Hamilton Gym. DU had the daunting challenge of stopping NBA prospect guard Max Abmas (18.9 ppg) on the perimeter and 7’5″ Connor Vanover on the inside.
In the first half, both teams started cold with a combined 3 of 17 from the field. ORU led 6-2 four minutes into the game. Denver was held to two points through eight minutes and had four shots blocked. Lukas Kisunas finally broke the ice, 10-4, a minute later with a bucket. ORU secured a double-digit lead, 16-6, with three Max Abmas charities and a DeShang Weaver tray. ORU stayed hot from the field and stretched the Golden Eagles’ lead to 21-9. Denver scratched back at the Golden Eagles. A Bruner tray, Touko Tainamo scoop, and Bruner bucket cut the Golden Eagles’ lead to 4 with under five minutes remaining. Tyree Corbett spurred the DU run by taking over the boards with 7 rebounds in the half to help narrow the visitors’ lead. Two Kisunas free throws tied the game at 23-23 on a 14-2 Denver run with 1:30 remaining. The half ended 29-25 as ORU finished with a bucket and two free throws.
The wheels fell off for the Pios in the second half as ORU showed their championship pedigree. The Golden Eagles extended their lead to 44-35 in the first five minutes of the second half as DU went cold from the field. A pair of threes by Issac McBride and DeShang Weaver gave ORU a 55-42 lead at the midway point of the half. A Patrick Mwamba three capped the next five minutes, 68-49, ORU. From there, it was game-set-match as cold shooting from the field and the line by the Pioneers doomed any chance of a comeback. 80-62, final.
The game was a setback for Denver, a program vying for respectability. The key message is that progress has been made but there is more work to do to become a legitimate contender. It is clear that Tevin Smith is still recovering from his knee injury and, hopefully, will contribute more as the season progresses. Denver’s offense shot 39.4% from the field and missed 12 free throws in a game with a team that has little margin for error. Sixteen turnovers to eight were too many against a quality team as well. Tommy Bruner outscored Max Abmas 24-17 and Touko Tainamo had 10 points for DU.
Next up for DU is a Thursday game on the road against St. Thomas at 6 pm MT.