HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Behind 14-point performances from senior co-captains Brian Stafford (Walnut Creek, Calif.) and Rob Lewis (Colorado Springs, Colo.), the No. 3 seeded University of Denver men's basketball advanced with a 61-50 victory over South Alabama in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Quarterfinals at Convention Center Court on Sunday night.
Freshman guard Royce O'Neale (Killeen, Texas) recorded his third career - and second straight - double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"What I was most happy about was that we played exactly the way we finished the season, and we looked exactly the way we looked last Sunday at home," head coach Joe Scott said. "We looked very similar to that except we were crisper on offense. We didn't start that way, but we didn't let it bother us. We played good defense and showed a lot of poise, and we stepped up at critical times in the game."
Leading 46-45 with eight minutes remaining in the game, the Pioneers (22-8) rallied with a 15-5 run, including the final nine points, to end the game. South Alabama (17-12) missed their final 11 field goal attempts during that stretch.
Denver shot 44.2 percent (19-of-43) from the field and 35.3 percent (6-of-17) from three-point range, while holding the Jaguars to 36.2 (17-of-47) from the field and 23.5 percent (4-of-17) from beyond the arc.
The game's offense started slowly, as each team scored only eight points in the first 10 minutes. Denver took a 15-8 lead with 8:30 to go in the first half on a succession of three-pointer by freshman guard Brett Olson (Highlands Ranch, Colo.), an O'Neale putback and a backdoor dunk by Lewis, and the Pioneers took a 27-22 lead into halftime.
Stafford opened the second half with eight points, including a pair of three-pointers, to give Denver a 10-point lead with 14:38 remaining. However, USA's Augustine Rubit pulled the Jaguars back to within four points, including the 10:49 mark when he scored while drawing sophomore forward Chris Udofia's (Irving, Texas) fourth foul.
A three-pointer by Freddie Goldstein cut the Denver lead to 46-45 with eight minutes to play, and Rubit cut it back to two with 5:06 left.
However, the Pioneers continued to fight and scored the game's final nine points, while holding the Jaguars scoreless.
Denver will take on No. 7 seeded Western Kentucky (13-18) in the Sun Belt Tournament Semifinals on Monday at 7:30 p.m. MT. The game will be broadcast live on the Sun Belt Network, ESPN Full Court and ESPN3.com. Fans can listen live on AM 1510 or FM 93.7, and follow the action via a live blog available at DenverPioneers.com.
Fans interested in reserving 2012-13 Denver Pioneers season tickets are encouraged to submit a ticket information request on DenverPioneers.com.
NOTES: Denver will play in the SBC Tournament semifinals for the fifth time, including the second time under head coach Joe Scott. The Pioneers last played in the semifinals in 2010...South Alabama committed 25 fouls, a season high among Denver opponents...DU improved to 22-1 when holding opponents to 65 points or fewer...Sophomore Chris Udofia was held to a season-low five points, his lowest total since scoring three points against Florida Atlantic on Feb. 10, 2011...Prior to the game, Chase Hallam, Travis Hallam, Brian Stafford, Tyler Thalken and Chris Udofia were honored prior to the game as members of the 2011-12 SBC Commissioner's List by earning a 3.5 grade-point average or better. Justin Coughlin, Rob Lewis, Alex Pickert and Charles Webb were honored as members of the 2011-12 Sun Belt Academic Honor Roll for earning a 3.0-3.49 GPA. Along with former student-athletes Andrew Hooper, Kyle Lewis and Trevor Noonan, the Pioneers accounted for 35 percent of the league academic honors in basketball. Denver also earned the Sun Belt Men's Basketball Team Academic Award.