Denver 80, Colorado State 70
And just like that, things are looking up again for the Denver Pioneers.
Seemingly taking out the frustration of a 2-5* start, including an overtime loss at Mercer four days earlier, on their in-state rivals last night, Denver out-rebounded, out-hustled, outplayed and outscored the Rams of Colorado State, earning a 80-70 victory at Moby Arena that wasn’t in doubt down the stretch. Denver built its lead to 9 points with 8:44 left, and never looked back.
(*2-5 against Division 1 competition, that is. 3-5 overall.)
From the hallway after the game, loud hooting and cheers could be heard emanating from Denver’s locker room when head coach Joe Scott walked in. And for good reason: the generously estimated 3,968 fans at Moby Arena, including a vocal contingent of Denver supporters, had just watched DU notch its first win in Fort Collins since 1979, and arguably one of its three best road wins in Scott’s seven-year tenure.
Denver’s victory was the second part of a 1-2 punch that made Wednesday a big night for the Summit League. Minutes before tipoff in Fort Collins, the buzzer had sounded in South Bend, Indiana, where Denver’s presumptive rival for the conference championship, North Dakota State, shocked Notre Dame, 73-69, in an ESPNU game. Less than two hours later, the Pioneers joined the Bison as big winners on the road — in the process causing their KenPom ranking to skyrocket from #171 to #131.
Junior Brett Olson, seen in the photo at the top of this blog post celebrating an “and-one” that he would convert into an old-fashioned three-point play — or #YeOldeFashionedSuperhoope, as I like to say on Twitter — to put DU up by a dozen with 1:27 left (its largest lead of the night), led all scorers with a career-high 24 points. Although best known as a three-point sharpshooter, Olson earned his points the hard way Wednesday, making just 2-of-7 from #superhoop land but hitting six 2-pointers and six free throws. He also had a season-high 5 assists.
Senior Chris Udofia, seen in the same photo cheering on Olson from near the Ram logo, was Denver’s second-leading scorer with 15 points. After a relatively slow start to the season offensively, Udofia has scored 15, 11, 21 and 15 points in DU’s last four games, not to mention 7.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.3 blocks per game in that stretch.
As a team, Denver picked up a remarkable 29 rebounds, including 12 on the offensive boards, against the bigger Rams, who managed only 27 boards (7 offensive). CSU head coach Larry Eustachy saw the rebounding statistics as emblematic of a broader problem for his team. “I thought that [Denver’s] effort was better than ours from the beginning to the very end, and that’s new to me,” said Eustachy, who sounded devastated in the postgame press conference, a bit like someone had killed his puppy.
I kid, but Scott was clearly happy. “Pretty big win, huh?” he mused to me as we waited for Denver Post's Irv Moss to start the postgame interview.
Mile High Bally and DU Bally were also happy:
Denver is now 4-5 overall, 3-5 against Division I competition, with a much-improved chance of getting to .500 by the time Summit League play starts. You may recall I wrote last week that, to reach .500, the Pios would not only need to sweep their remaining non-conference home games (including the crucial upcoming trio of relatively evenly matched games: Wyoming on Sunday, Belmont on Tuesday, and UC-Irvine a week from Saturday), but would also need to pull off at least one upset in their four then-upcoming road games (Mercer, CSU, UTEP on 12/29 and St. Joseph’s on 1/4). Well, they just got their upset. Now, if they can merely hold serve at home, Denver will be at least 8-7 overall (7-7 vs. Division 1) by the end of their nonconference slate.
After the jump, I’ll post a Storify of my live tweets from the game (you can also see my archived liveblog). But first, I wanted to add some context to another Larry Eustachy quote that has some of my Ivy League-following basketball tweeps buzzing and LOL-ing. The audio is low-quality and quiet, but here it is; the relevant exchange begins around the 1:04 mark.
The exchange went as follows, per my transcription of the audio.
Matt Stephens, who covers the CSU hoops beat for The Coloradan, asked Eustachy: “The offense that they run — someone always cutting to the basket — is that prone to, maybe, more offensive rebounds?” (Quick aside: that clearly isn’t the case; offensive rebounding is typically one of Denver’s biggest weaknesses.) Here is Eustachy’s response:
"No. No. No, we’ve played against offenses like that before, and held teams under 40 points. We just did not match their intensity. We just didn’t. So, you know. We scored enough points. The problem was, there were 22 uncontested shots, and that’s effort. There were 12 offensive rebounds. They got all the loose balls. An offense is an offense is an offense. Too much is made of that, that’s for sure. It’s the same offense that they run at Princeton, and it won seven games. We just got beat in every category.”
When Eustachy says “it won seven games,” he is presumably referring — albeit with some numerical imprecision — to the disappointing end of Joe Scott’s three-year tenure as head coach at his alma mater, when Princeton went 11-17 overall, and 2-12 in the Ivy League (after going 15-13, 6-8 and 12-15, 10-4 in his first two years). After that third year, there were rumblings at Princeton about Scott being on the hot seat, but then he took charge of his own fate by suddenly and unexpectedly leaving Princeton and joining Denver, which was looking to replace Terry Carroll. That was March 2007, and the rest is history; Scott, who succeeded at Air Force before his stint at Princeton, is now widely respected as a coach and tactician. But he’s still viewed with some mixture of skepticism and bemusement by a contingent of my Ivy League tweeps who followed his Princeton tenure, and those folks were amused by Eustachy’s quote.
That said, I don’t think Eustachy’s point was to bash Joe Scott. His quote was of a piece with several other answers in which he refused to agree with proffered excuses or explanations for CSU’s poor performance and sub-par effort. Eustachy was, I think, basically just saying that Scott’s Princeton offense isn’t some sort of magic special sauce that renders teams like his helpless; rather, it was a simple lack of intensity and effort that doomed the Rams, in his view.
Anyway, as promised, my Storify archive of the game: