HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Sophomore forward Justin Coughlin (Yuma, Colo.) had a career-high 17 points, including 11 in the second half, to lead the No. 6-seeded University of Denver men's basketball team to a 71-64 win over No. 11-seeded Florida International in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament First Round in Summit Arena on Saturday night.
Sophomore guard Brian Stafford (Walnut Creek, Calif.) also had 17 points for the Pioneers (18-12). Senior guard Nate Rohnert (Parker, Colo.) had 14 points and a game-high nine rebounds, and freshman guard Chase Hallam (Mesquite, Texas) added 14 points and six rebounds. Coughlin also set a career high with a game-high four assists.
"Everybody in this league knows that any team can beat any other team on any given night," head coach Joe Scott said. "Our guys did a good job grinding it out. We basically did what we had to do to win the game."
Denver battled the Golden Panthers (7-25) through four ties and 12 lead changes, but a Stafford three-pointer with 12:51 remaining in the second half put DU ahead for good.
A scrappy FIU team hung around, cutting the Denver lead to one with 6:19 left in the game, but the Pioneers immediately stretched it back out with a pair of free throws by Stafford and a dunk and free throw by Coughlin.
Despite 10 first half turnovers by the Pioneers, DU took a 29-26 edge to the break.
Florida International was led by Phil Gary's 23 points.
The Pioneers advance to face No. 3 seeded Middle Tennessee in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Quarterfinals on Sunday at 8 p.m. MT. The game will be broadcast live on AM 950 and www.DenverPioneers.com. Live video and live stats are available at http://www.sunbeltsports.org/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=4100&ATCLID=204783267.