IUPUI took on the Denver Pioneers on Saturday afternoon. Both teams entered the game 3-3 in conference play and were desperately seeking a foot up in Summit League play. The Jaguars were riding the high of a buzzer beater overtime victory over South Dakota State, while Denver was licking their wounds from a loss to Omaha.
IUPUI struck first with a post score from Evan Hall. This would be the staple of the Jaguar’s offense throughout the game, as their perimeter shots were not falling. Denver answered right back with a post score of their own, and the pace was set for the rest of the game. There were 10 lead changes and 17 ties in the game, and the final score of 78-74 proves the intense competition on this January day.
Senior guard Darell Combs struggled from the field, which caused a bit of a disturbance from the Jaguar offense. Going into the game, Combs was averaging 17 points per game. When the final buzzer sounded, he had just 9 points, and only 2 in the first half. The post game picked up the slack for the Jaguars. But as the IUPUI post game gained their footing, as did Denver’s. Pioneer big man Daniel Amigo scored 18 from the post, and surely would have had more if he hadn’t sat out a majority of the second half due to foul trouble.
In addition to the post play, IUPUI also relied on junior guard Ron Patterson for points. Patterson knocked down three 3-pointers in the first half alone, leading the Jaguars in scoring with 11 points. IUPUI ended the half with a short run, and entered the locker room with a 43-38 lead.
When play resumed in the second half, it appeared Combs was back to his usual groove when he swished a 3-pointer in their first possession. But, his play leveled off immediately after the big shot. Paying no mind to his teammate’s struggles, senior guard Kellon Thomas banked in an impressive layup, and it seemed IUPUI would run away with the game, but foul issues derailed the Jaguar’s momentum. Four fouls were called on IUPUI in the first 4 minutes of play. With a few quick jumpers and a 3-pointer, Denver erased the lead and narrowed the score to 52-50.
“I take part of the blame,” Thomas said about teammate Combs’ struggles. “As the point guard, it’s my job to set him up. They did a good job defensively, but we could have done a better job of making plays for him. Everyone has an off night. It’s not just about him.”
From that point on, it was a slugfest in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum. Combs continued to try to get his game going, but the Denver defense smothered his attempts to light the flame. Two offensive fouls on Denver swung the momentum back to IUPUI, only for Denver to hit two 3-pointers and a jumper in back to back to back possessions.
As the game approached its closing minutes, the Jaguars trailed 75-73. A foul by Denver sent Aaron Brennan to the line, with the potential game tying shot on his shoulders. He made the first, but the second rimmed out. After Denver was fouled and sank both free throws, IUPUI trailed by 3 with just seconds left. IUPUI coach Jason Gardner put the ball in the hands of his struggling star Combs. Combs bled the clock for a few dribbles, and pulled up for his game tying attempt. Denver was prepared, and had their longest defender covering him. It was a difficult shot, and it did not fall.
Following the disappointing loss, IUPUI will head up to Fort Wayne to take on the IPFW Mastodons on Jan. 25. The Mastodons are currently the 10th ranked mid-major team in the nation, and pose a formidable challenge for the Jaguars.
“It’s a conference game,” coach Gardner said. “They’re a tough team, they play well at home. They have some good players, they’re playing well right now. We have to get stops, we have to be in better position defensively. Every conference team is really good, all of them are going to be dog fights.