With only one month left in the season, Denver men’s basketball’s (13-9; 5-4 Summit League) offense has only continued to get better, culminating in a win on Jan. 25 over South Dakota State University (SDSU) (10-14; 3-6 Summit League), 91-82 at home.
Junior guard Jake Pemberton (Highlands Ranch, Colorado) started the game with three three-point baskets in a row, getting the Pioneers off to a 9-5 start. Pemberton continued to be dominant throughout the game, scoring a personal career-high 25 points, including five three-pointers.
“[Pemberton]’s finally starting to take the shots, good shots and not live his emotions and just play basketball,” said Head Coach Rodney Billups. “When he does that, he can make every shot he shoots, and tonight was his night.”
Pemberton wasn’t the only player having a career-best night; junior center Christian Mackey (Kirtland, New Mexico) pulled down a career-high 11 rebounds against a physical SDSU team. Rebounds and Pemberton’s star night made all the difference for the Pios as they battled against one of the best players in the Summit League, Mike Daum, who walked away with 29 points.
SDSU attempted a comeback in the second half in front of a small but raucous SDSU contingent behind their bench. Despite outscoring the Pioneers in the half, the visitors were stopped short of taking the lead. DU’s 91 points is the most they’ve scored this season.
“We’re taking better shots and believing in the process and our guys are just getting more and more confident with each other. It’s actually pretty fun to watch,” Billups said.
However, things looked a little different on Jan. 28 against the University of South Dakota (USD) in Vermillion, South Dakota. A sluggish first half and too many turnovers led the Pioneers to a 88-83 loss to the Coyotes.
Foul trouble in the first half plagued Denver, as did South Dakota’s strong defense. The Pioneers stayed close in the second half, but they were forced to foul to extend the game in the final minutes. However, USD locked up the win by making their free throws.
Guard Joe Rosga (St. Paul, Minnesota) had his seventeenth 20-point game of the season for DU, and Mackey had another good showing off the bench. Nonetheless, Denver’s 18 turnovers resulted in 21 points for the other side, killing DU’s otherwise strong defensive showing.
Pemberton and guard Abiola Akintola (Melbourne, Australia) both fouled out.
Despite being 1-3 on the road this month with more road games than home games left this season, Billups remains optimistic.
“I like our team on the road. I think we’re a better team on the road most times because we can limit distractions and it’s just us and basketball. I like being on the road,” Billups said.
DU’s next game is at Oral Roberts University (7-16; 3-6 Summit League) on Jan. 31. Their next home game is Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. against Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (16-7; 5-4 Summit League). DU slipped to fourth in the Summit League standings with their loss. against USD.