As DU winds down the current athletic year and Denver Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation Karlton Creech prepares to depart for the next chapter in his career, we die-hard fans at LetsGoDU have our wish list for the next athletic director, whomever it may be.
It was epic, heart-wrenching and at the same time, prideful.
The eighth and final-seeded Denver Pioneers Men’s Basketball Team, playing with just one upperclassman in the lineup for most of the season, saved their very best team effort for their last game, as the Pioneers took top-seed North Dakota State into the final seconds before dropping a thrilling 71-69 heartbreaker in the opening round of the Summit League Tournament at the Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Denver sophomore and top shooter Jase Townsend, who had tied the game up at 69-69 with 25 seconds remaining, had a chance to win or tie the game again in the final six seconds with the score 71-69, NDSU. However, instead of shooting a three-point attempt for the win, he elected (or perhaps was instructed) to drive to the basket instead for a two-point shot to tie, drawing contact from the Bison, but not a foul call, as his layup attempt fell just wide at the buzzer, ending the game (and DU’s season) at a record of 7-24.
North Dakota State, 23-8 and 11.5-point favorites against DU, escaped to the tournament semi-finals on Monday Night. NDSU Senior Vinnie Shahid, who is DU Senior Ade Murkey’s former AAU teammate and close friend from Minneapolis, led the Bison with 22 points, including a huge three pointer and a pair of foul shots in the final minute to seal the win for the Bison.
The Pioneers, who shot 50% from the field in the game, outscored the Bison 39-35 in the second half. DU, who had won two of their last three games just to get to the last Summit League Tourney slot in Sioux Falls and escape last place, played their total hearts out. DU’S three best players, Ade Murkey, Jase Townsend and Robert Jones led the Pioneers with excellent performances with their season on the line.
Murkey, a senior and the heart-and-soul of the Pioneers finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists in his final game in Crimson and Gold, before fouling out in tears in the final seconds. North Dakota State coach Dave Richman called Murkey a “warrior” after the game on television, and complimented the Pioneers profusely on the near-upset.
Townsend, who put the Pios on his back down the stretch, scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half.
Jones, the 6-10 freshman big man, had a career-high 21 points to lead Denver in scoring on the night, with all of the points coming in the paint.
The Pioneers used solid shooting and strong defense to hold NDSU to just 39% shooting.
Indeed, the Pioneers, without their band or cheerleaders in Sioux Falls, were ‘adopted’ and cheered on by thousands of South Dakota State fans, who had arrived early for their tournament game following Denver and NDSU.
The teams traded baskets early, but it looked like NDSU might pull away after a Jaxon Knotek dunk midway through the first half. Knotek’s slam fired up the Bison crowd and gave NDSU an 18-12 lead. It didn’t last though, as the Pioneers scored the next four points.
It then looked like the Pioneers might make a run when DU freshman Robert Jones and-1 dunk at 7:13 mark tied the game at 20, but he missed the free throw and NDSU scored the next five points. Denver did get back to within one, but the Bison scored the final five points of the half to take a 36-30 lead into the locker room.
Vinnie Shahid buried a second-chance three-pointer four minutes into the second half to put the Bison up 44-36, their largest lead of the game to that point. After a stop at the other end, the all-league first-teamer hit a layup to push the lead to 46-36, which drew a timeout from the Denver bench.
NDSU was threatening to pull away again, but Denver’s Jase Townsend went on a 7-0 run midway through the frame to tie the game at 49-all, part of a 16-3 stretch by Denver that ended with the Pioneers up 58-52 with 8:33 on the clock.
The Pioneers held onto that lead until a Shahid triple put the Bison up 67-65 with 1:22 on the clock. Denver tied the game twice after that, but could never regain the lead. Shahid got fouled on a drive with six seconds left and hit both foul shots to secure the win.
Shahid led all players in the game and three Bison in double figures with 22 points. Tyson Ward added 20 points and Sam Griesel collected 10 points to go along with a career-high 13 rebounds.
Thus an otherwise horrible 7-24 DU season is over, but anyone watching the game had to admire the performance DU put in against a veteran Bison team.DU should return a nucleus of more experienced players next season, as only Murkey graduates.
Our own Puck Swami takes a look back through DU’s rich sports history to the eight times DU men’s basketball played at New York City’s Madison Square Garden in this two-part flashback series. In the first part (here), he covered the first four DU appearances between 1947 and 1959, while in this second part (below) he covers the second four MSG appearances, which occurred between 1959 and 1966.
Photo: The old Madison Square Garden (1925-1968) in New York City, seen here in 1932 taking up most of a city block, hosted the DU Pioneers Basketball team eight times between 1947 and 1966.
Our own Puck Swami takes a look back through DU’s rich sports history to the eight times DU men’s basketball played at New York City’s Madison Square Garden between 1947 and 1966 in this first of a two-part flashback series, which covers DU’s first four appearances in New York City.
The University of Denver Pioneers (8-22) basketball team scratched, clawed, and gave everything they had to try and keep their terrible season alive, but it was just not enough, as the second-place University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks rode balanced, double-digit scoring from four veteran players to defeat the Pioneers, 86-76 at Magness Arena on Sunday.
While men’s hockey and lacrosse take up the lion’s share of fan interest for most Pioneer fans, it’s important to recognize some otherDU athletic teams who continue to climb higher into national prominence and greater conference impact:
The 13th-ranked DU women’s lacrosse team beat its very first top five opponent since coach Liza Kelly took the helm in 2006, upsetting (#6/#4) Stony Brook (N.Y.) University, 11-7, behind Bea Behrins’ three-goal hat trick. This was a statement win for the program. The Pios have been a top-20 program for a while now, but have had trouble beating the very top echelon teams. Sunday’s win over SBU kept DU undefeated at 4-0 and may see the Pioneers knocking on the door of a top-10 ranking. The Michigan Wolverines come to town this Tuesday to face the surging Pioneers for a 12 noon start.
The sixth-ranked DU women’s gymnastics team scored its second highest all-time score (and the highest score of this season) with a 197.725 on Sunday afternoon before over 4,000 fans at Magness Arena, to win the meet over Iowa State and Boise State. This kind of scoring should keep DU in the hunt for a top-five national ranking as the season moves into the stretch run.
The DU men’s (#24th nationally) and (#47) women’s swim teams once again won the Summit League title for the sixth year in a row. DU was so dominant at the Summit League Championships that the DU women set an all-time league record for points, and DU mens and women swimmers won 37 of 38 of the swimming events overall. That’s an incredible achievement – perhaps the swimming equivalent of winning the Summit League basketball title game by 30 points, and repeating the winning margin for six straight years.
DU women’s basketball (15-12, 8-6 Summit league) continued its rise into a winning program with a dramatic road win at North Dakota. Often-injured senior Pioneer Haley Simental hit the long-range three point shot-of-her-college-career to send the game into overtime at the buzzer, in a game that the Pios would later win, 92-91. With the OT win, the Pios’ have earned at least a top-five seed at the Summit League tournament next month.
The DU women’s tennis team, ranked #40 nationally, are 7-2 this year in a sport where 317 teams compete nationally. DU has already defeated brand name schools such as Oregon, Wisconsin, BYU and Colorado this season.
All of these teams deserve our support, and we look forward to seeing how they compete in the coming months.
The University of Denver Pioneer Men’s Basketball Team won its second Summit League game in a row, thumping the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, 74-58 at Magness Arena on Sunday, January 20th.
The Pioneers played another solid defensive game, holding the Golden Eagles to 34% shooting and making a crucial halftime double-team defensive adjustment to stop ORU’s hot-shooting freshman Kevin Obanor, who had torched the Pioneers for 15 first half points. Obanor had just two points in the second half, which opened the door for DU to cruise to a 40-point second half behind a balanced 53% shooting performance of its own.
Senior Joe Rosga hit his first five shots to set the tone for DU, finishing with a game-high 21 points. DU also got 13 points off the bench from freshman David Nzekwesi, who had his best all around game for DU, chipping in with four rebounds and two steals in his 24 minutes, playing in front of his injured (ankle) older brother, Emmanuel, who is a junior star for ORU (8-14).
Finally, DU guard Ade Murkey, after a terrible first half where he went scoreless and had four turnovers, came alive in the second half, scoring all 11 of his points and forcing the proverbial dagger into the Golden Eagles with a critical, driving three-point play with 6:35 left that pushed the Denver lead to 11 points, which seemed to break ORU’s spirit (see the play here).
Denver senior Ronnie Harrell, Jr. sat out today’s game with a minor strained knee ligament. He is expected back in the lineup soon, as well as Joe Lanzi, who sat out his second game with a broken finger.
The Pioneers started the game with a 10-0 opening lead on ORU but the Golden Eagles trailed the Pioneers by a bucket at halftime, 34-32.
The Pioneers (7-14) now face a tough road trip to Fort Wayne, Ind. to face the Summit League’s third-place Ft. Wayne Mastodons (12-9) on Saturday, January 26th.
As Denver Pioneer fans, we’re lucky that we can pop our attention from one successful DU sports program to another. All three fall DU sports (men’s and women’s soccer plus women’s volleyball) earned appearances in their respective NCAA Tournaments this fall. And DU hockey is now ranked seventh in the nation on this bye week, more successful than almost anyone thought they’d be at this point in the season with a young team. Which brings me to the next DU team worthy of more of our attention, the DU women’s basketball team, who have shot out to a 6-1 start to the season and a current national top 40 RPI (#39) ranking, including a current four-game winning streak, as of Sunday, Dec. 2. (Note: Early season RPI rankings are subject to volatile swings, as game data comparisons are still somewhat paltry.)
I would venture a guess that perhaps only 10 percent of our readership here at LetsGoDU have ever been to a live DU women’s basketball game before, and it’s hard to blame them. There is a lot to do in Denver, and the DU women’s basketball teams have been pretty terrible in recent memory, known more for single-digit win/last-place seasons, a fired coach and crowds comprised mostly of friends and family members. Apart from a surprise 2001 NCAA appearance in the early years of the Ritchie Center and a period of decent mediocrity (72-52) under former coach Erik Johnson from 2008-2012, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about with DU women’s hoops in the last 20 years.
But this year’s DU women’s team is starting to change some of that…
The Pioneers are starting to get noticed in just the second year of the Jim Turgeon coaching era, with home wins over then-#16 RPI Lamar and the latest win, a 29-point win over Loyola Marymount, a top 100 team who had already beaten UCLA and Arizona this year.Moreover, the Pioneers are a very high-scoring bunch, averaging a stunning 90 points per game to date this season, and sport a victory margin of 16 points per game.
And Turgeon, who came to DU from CSU-Pueblo in NCAA Division II two years ago, is doing all this with many of former DU coach Kerry Cremeans’ recruits, who knew only college basketball failure before Turgeon’s arrival. Moreover, he’s done it with a wholly different philosophy of team speed, running the floor at altitude and sharing the ball, instead of Cremeans’ over-reliance on feeding key players, a coaching practice that reportedly lost the locker room and brought an end to her losing tenure at DU. This year, DU has five players averaging double-digit scoring per game, a depth which makes it harder for opponents to key on any one player, and also makes for a much happier DU locker room.
DU’s high scoring attack has been led by Lauren Loven, a junior holdover recruit from Cremeans, who is now flourishing in the ball-sharing Turgeon era, leading the entire nation in made three-pointers (30 in six games through Nov. 30), and is averaging 21 points per game overall to lead the Pioneers in scoring. Additionally, fellow Junior Madison Nelson has exploded recently, with a 20-rebound performance against Lamar and pumping in 28 points in the win over Loyola Marymount. But it’s not just upperclassmen.
Hard-working associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Kayla Ard and the rest of Turgeon’s Denver staff have also brought in some freshmen who are stepping up right away, including Sydney Mech, a local swing player out of Cherry Creek High School who can play either forward or guard, and who is shooting a scorching 50% from the field, averaging 10 points per game. Additionally, talented freshman guard Tsimba Malonga from the Chicago area, who has averaged over 20 minutes per game in the last two games, is being rewarded with more playing time as her contributions increase.
While the 6-1 early record is outstanding, it has been created with a lot of home games, and we’ll soon see what the Pioneers are really made of in the coming weeks. DU is preparing to go on the road for seven of its next eight games, including visits to Wyoming, the University of Nebraska and Colorado State, before heading into the teeth of Summit League play, where top level programs South Dakota and South Dakota State are projected to lead the Summit League.