WAC's Denver Wins NIT First-Round Game

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DENVER -- Brett Olson scored 15 points and his defensive pressure helped turn aside a potential go-ahead layup with 21 seconds remaining as Denver hung on to beat Ohio 61-57 Tuesday night in an NIT first-round game.

With Denver (22-9) leading 58-57, Olson shadowed D.J. Cooper on his drive to the basket and got a hand in his face as he put the shot up from up close. Teammate Chris Udofia, who finished 14 points, came over at the last moment to block Cooper's layup attempt.

"We got really good defensive stops down the stretch," Olson said.

Chase Hallam made two of four free throws in the final 1:17 -- his only points of the game, including a free throw with 19 seconds left to put Denver up by two. Reggie Keely's layup try with seven seconds left was off the mark, starting a fastbreak that Royce O'Neale finished with a dunk just before the buzzer sounded.

"I thought our defense sort of rescued us tonight," Denver coach Joe Scott said. "From about the 12-minute mark of the second half on, it really got stingy and it really got good. It was enough to let our offense take advantage and get us the lead."

Cooper had 16 points to lead Ohio (24-10) but couldn't finish off his final drive in the face of stout defense by Denver, which advanced to a second-round match Thursday at Maryland, an 86-70 winner earlier over Niagara.

"I think it was a hard-fought game for both teams all the way through," Ohio coach Jim Christian said. "We had the ball two times in the last minute and ran a play for D.J. and he missed one that he usually makes. Then we had a play with Reggie. We had the looks we wanted. We just couldn't hit either shot."

It's the first time in three NIT appearances that Denver has gone beyond the first round.

"It just means the world to us to be the first team in DU history to get past the first round," Udofia said. "We're excited to get down this pathway and we're just ready to play another one."

Up by two at the half, Ohio stretched its lead to 44-37 on Stevie Taylor's jumpshot with 13:51 remaining. But Denver gradually cut into the advantage and used a 7-2 burst that Olson finished when he banked in a jumper with 7:20 left to go in front 51-50.

Keely answered with a basket for Ohio before Denver scored six consecutive points, including a jumper by Olson, to pull out to a 57-52 lead with 3:55 remaining. Cooper then hit a 3-pointer but it wasn't enough to overtake Denver, which did not relinquish the lead the rest of the way.

Cooper scored seven straight points for Ohio in the last 1:55 of the first period, including converting a three-point play to give the Bobcats a 32-30 halftime lead.

The Pioneers had led by as many as six points in the opening period and were in front 30-25 after Cam Griffin made a 10-foot turnaround jumper with 2:20 remaining in the first.