DENVER - University of Denver men's basketball freshman forward Royce O'Neale (Killeen, Texas) recorded 11 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high seven steals, as the Pioneers concluded the regular season with its fourth-straight win, a 64-52 victory over the North Texas Mean Green at Magness Arena on Sunday afternoon.
With the win, Denver (21-8, 11-5 SBC) set a new team record for NCAA Division I victories, and the Pioneers earned the No. 3 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
Sophomore forward Chris Udofia (Irving, Texas) and senior guard Brian Stafford (Walnut Creek, Calif.) led a quartet of Pioneer double-figure scorers with 15 each. Stafford added four assists and three steals, while Udofia blocked three shots and hauled in six rebounds. Freshman guard Brett Olson (Highlands, Ranch, Colo.) rounded out the Pioneers double-digit scorers with 10.
"I thought our guys did a really good job. It's important for us to finish February, because to do that you have to be tough, strong, physical and know who you are," head coach Joe Scott said. "We've won four-in-a-row after a tough road stretch. I think we've gotten better in the month of February, which is important because now we're going into March the right way."
Denver dominated the turnover battle, scoring 27 points off 20 NT turnovers. The Mean Green (16-12, 9-6 SBC) scored just five points off the Pioneers' six turnovers, which tied DU's season-low. Of the 20 Mean Green turnovers, Denver swiped a Magness Arena-record 15 steals, tying the team's mark against South Dakota State on Dec. 11, 2004.
O'Neale, who registered the second double-double in his third career start with, tied Denver's Division I record with seven steals, the most since Xander McNally had seven on Feb. 10, 2008. O'Neale filled the void left by junior guard Chase Hallam (Mesquite, Texas), who missed the first start of his career on Sunday.
A seesaw first half that saw seven lead changes was capped off by an 11-2 DU run, giving the Pioneers a 27-20 lead at the intermission. Denver stretched the lead to 15, following a 10-3 DU run that was punctuated by an O'Neale dunk.
The Pioneers held the Mean Green to a season-low 52 points, not allowing them within the seven-point halftime margin in the second half. For the second-straight game, the Pioneers finished perfect from the free throw line, netting all nine attempts.
The Mean Green's Brandan Walton finished with 13 points and Alzee Williams added 10.
DU will play the winner of No. 6 seed South Alabama and No. 11 seed Troy in the SBC Quarterfinals in Hot Springs, Ark., on Sunday, March 4, at 7:45 p.m. MT. The Pioneers beat both potential quarterfinal opponents earlier this season.
Notes: Denver honored seniors Alex Pickert (Carmel, Calif.), Tyler Thalken (Tulsa, Okla.), Travis Hallam (Mesquite, Texas), Justin Coughlin (Yuma, Colo.), Rob Lewis (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Stafford prior to tipoff...This is the first graduating class that Joe Scott recruited during his DU tenure, including Lewis who was Scott's first recruit at Denver...DU's 15 steals were the most since recording 15 against South Dakota State on Dec. 11, 2004...the Pioneers finished 14-2 at Magness Arena this year, improving DU's record to 61-13 (.824) overall and 37-6 (.860) in the Sun Belt Conference...DU shot just 38.7 percent (24-of-62), snapping a streak of five-straight games with at least 50.0 percent...the Pioneers improved to 21-1 when holding their opponent to 65 points or fewer...this marked Denver's final regular season game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, as the Pioneers will join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) on July 1, 2012.