With a chance to go to the Summit League finals on the line, the Denver Pioneers came out and played one of their worst games of the season – it was a disappointing end to an up and down season that seemed before tonight like it might have a little bit of magic left in it. It wasn’t meant to be though, as a combination of terrible shooting, turnovers, and not enough defense gave Denver no chance to even keep the game close.
When Austin Ruder made a free throw with 10 seconds left in regulation, Oral Roberts held a 70-67 lead and it was looking like a back to back first round exit for Denver in the Summit League tournament was likely. Instead, Joe Rosga made a shot for the ages, banking in a three with five seconds to go to force overtime, and despite having to endure a second OT, Denver would come away with the 90-88 victory to advance to the second round of the Summit League tournament.
With the regular season complete, it’s time for the 2018 Summit League Men’s Basketball Conference Tournament Preview. Click above to listen – topics covered include:
-2017-2018 season in review.
-Surprises from this year’s DU team.
-Coverage of the first two rounds of the Summit League conference tournament
-Predictions for the entire tournament and championship game.
Denver begins conference tournament play on Sunday, March 4 as the #3 seed against #6 seed Oral Roberts at 7:30 PM mountain time. All conference tournament games will be played at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
With Fort Wayne having to end the season against South Dakota State, the math became pretty simple for the Denver Pioneers – win at Western Illinois and get sole possession of third place in the Summit League. Denver came out strong on Saturday night and did just that, crushing Western Illinois 89-52 and finishing the regular season with a 14-14 (8-6 Summit League) record. It was a dominating performance to close out a dominating end to the regular season for the Pios.
After losing to South Dakota State on February 8, Coach Rodney Billups made it clear that despite having lost two in a row, he felt good about the next four games and thought that Denver could win them all – they’re 3/4 of the way there after today’s 66-65 victory over Oral Roberts. It’s a game that gets Denver to 7-6 in the conference and keeps them in third place behind South Dakota State and South Dakota. It’s been an impressive streak and I asked Coach Billups how his confidence affected the run. “I hope that it’s infectious. We still practice hrd, we play hard, we try different lineups, and our guys believe in each other, which is great to see. But it’s one thing when I’m playing and another when I’m coaching. I hope my atittude and energy help them win games.”
After a close loss to South Dakota State on Thursday, Denver was in desperate need of a home win to keep them in the running for a third place finish in the Summit League. Things looked a little iffy at the beginning, and North Dakota State made a huge run that Denver had to fight off late, but they ended up coming away with a 66-63 victory. This gets them to 5-6 in the Summit League, and depending on the result of tonight’s Fort Wayne/Omaha game, the Pios will either be in third place or a game back in fourth place at the end of the day.
Denver had a chance late, which is about all you can ask for against a team as tough as South Dakota State, but the Pios just weren’t able to pull this one off. A horrid start to the game and a lack of focus at stretches were too much for Denver to overcome, and despite holding Mike Daum to 4-16 from the field, they couldn’t come away with the win. It was frustrating to see the opportunity slip away, but the fight that Denver showed was admirable and South Dakota State is the best team in the league, so this was always going to be a tough one to win.
Momentum can be an important thing in sports, and as Denver headed into today’s showdown against Fort Wayne on a three game winning streak (including a victory over South Dakota last weekend) they seemed to have all of the momentum in the world. And that would hold would true in this game… for the first two and a half minutes. After that, things fell apart quickly and we saw many bad habits come back to this Denver team. It’s a frustrating setback after such a good run, especially when you dig a little deeper into the stats, as we will in a second.
It was an opportunity for their biggest win of the season and the Denver Pioneers took advantage of it. They rode a hot start and incredible performances to an almost easy 84-68 win. South Dakota did make a few runs but for the most part Denver just outplayed them and certainly looked like the better team on this day. I asked Coach Billups how a win like this affects the team’s confidence the rest of the way and he said “If we can beat arguably the best team in the conference on our home floor, we can beat anybody. We’ve got some tough games ahead, we’ve got to take this show on the road against Fort Wayne next Saturday but this gives us the confidence to push through.”