The Purdue Fort Wayne men’s basketball team had 19-point lead early in the second half, on the heels of a first half that saw their defense have one of the best performances in program history.
But it became a nail-biter late before the Mastodons hung on a for a 58-51 victory at the Gates Center tonight.
Matt Holba’s 3 pointer, on which he drew a foul (he missed the free throw), made it 48-40 with 5:22 left. Jarred Godfrey followed with a layup for the Mastodons for a 50-40 lead with 5:07 remaining.
Denver cut it to 52-49, but Deonte Billups made a 3 with 43 seconds left for a six-point lead that stopped the bleeding.
Billups, a freshman, had a career-best 21 points with nine rebounds for PFW. Dylan Carl had his first double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Denver was led by Ade Murkey’s 20 points.
The Mastodons set a program record by allowing only 14 points in the first half for a 31-14 lead. Their previous low against a Division I opponent had been 15 points.
PFW (13-17, 6-9 in Summit League), which completes its regular season 8 p.m. Saturday at Oral Roberts, and then will compete in the Summit League Tournament, snapped a three-game losing streak despite shooting 35.7% from the field, compared with Denver’s 35.6% shooting.
Denver (6-23, 2-13) has lost 18 of its last 20 games, including a 70-63 loss to PFW on Feb. 8.
Despite missing 11 of their first 18 shots, the Mastodons still had a commanding 17-8 lead after Brian Patrick converted a 3-pointer with 8:22 remaining in the first half.
The lead grew to 24-8 when a Holba 3-pointer from the corner was followed by a layup by Billups.
As unpredictable as PFW’s early shooting was, Denver’s was much worse. At halftime, PFW led 31-14 with 41.4% shooting, compared with Denver’s 21.4% shooting. Billups had nine points at that juncture.
The Pioneers, however, opened the second half with a 14-4 run, culminating with a Jase Townsend drive, to cut the PFW lead to 35-28 as the Mastodons missed 11 of their first 13 shots in the half.
PFW’s Tionne Rollins converted a 3-pointer to give the crowd a bit of relief with a 40-28 lead and 11:53 left in the game. Billups’ big rebound in the lane put him in position to pass to Cameron Benford for a layup and a 44-34 lead with 9:26 left.