By Matthew T.F. Harrington
STANFORD, Calif. – Despite trailing the opponent for most of the game, the Stanford Cardinal topped the visiting Denver Pioneers 49-43 at Maples Pavilion. Starting the game on the bench after showing up late to a morning practice courtesy of a wrongly set alarm clock, guard Anthony Brown had a game-high 17 points for the Cardinal while tying for the team-lead in rebounds with 6.
“Anthony’s been a terrific player for me throughout his career,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Let me go on record as saying, he’s a fifth-year senior, and that’s the first time he’s been late for anything. It was very difficult for me as a coach, because we have policies in place but he’s never been late to anything before.”
“I think he was trying to make up for that,” added Dawkins when asked if Brown’s play was a result of trying to rectify his late arrival. “But he’s also a winner. He realized we needed it. Anthony’s always had the ability to step up in those moments when things may not be going as well for us.”
On a poor shooting night for both sides, the Cardinal hit just 14 of 44 field goal attempts, but limited the Pioneers (4-5) to 17 of 43 for the victory in Stanford’s first game since November 30th.
“The timing was off, the rhythm,” said Brown. “That’s something you can’t really simulate in practice. That’s more of a game situation.
The Cardinal (5-2) has now won the first game back from the winter break for finals in eight consecutive seasons.
“We were a little rusty,” said Brown. “We haven’t played in two weeks. We have the longest break in the country. That contributed. Denver’s also a good team. They have shooters. Any time you have shooters you have a chance to win.”
The Pioneers’ Princeton offense and perimeter shooting dominated the game early, with the Summit League side connecting on three of their first four shots (all three-pointers) to take a 13-2 5:44 into play. The Cardinal struggled to find its shooting touch going just 1 for 6 over the same span.
Stanford’s defense turned the tables on its Rocky Mountain rivals, limiting the Pioneers to just one field goal over the next nine-plus minutes. Stymying the visitors, the Cardinal cobbled together a 13-2 run, capped by an Anthony Brown three-pointer to tie the game 15-all with 6:25 left in the half.
Brown’s trey marked the last Cardinal field goal before the break. Rosco Allen hit a pair of free throws, the only two trips to line for either side in the entire first half, but Denver outscored the hosts 10-2 for a 25-17 lead at the mid-way point.
“Possessions are of a premium,” said Dawkins. “Being down by 11 to them is like being down by 20 versus most teams because they’re not going to come down and quick-shoot it and have a lot of possessions in the game. You really have to focus in.”
Stanford star guard and potential Pac-12 Player of the Year Chasson Randle went bucket-less over the first half, going 0 for 5 from the floor. One game after scoring a combined 69 points, Stanford’s starting five collected only seven with Stanford hitting 6 of 17 first half shots. Brown topped the Cardinal with six points off the bench in the first.
“I give them credit,” Dawkins said of the Pioneer defense. “They did some things well defensively that caused us to shoot a low field goal percentage than we would have liked. Some of it was also rust. When you don’t play for two straight weeks, there’s no way you can simulate that in practice.”
The Cardinal slowly chipped away at nine-point deficit, outscoring Denver 15-9 to pull within one point with just under nine minutes to play. Stanford took its first lead of the day after guard Robert Cartwright drained a three with 8:05 left to play. Brown then stole the ball on Denver’s next offensive possession, going end-to-end to convert the lay-up through a Nate Engesser foul for a 36-33 edge.
The scoreboard again tilted in the Pioneers favor after Jalen Love and Marcus Byrd hit back-to-back three’s before Stefan Nastic’s basket put Stanford within two at 39-37.
When the Cardinal needed him most, Randle delivered. The senior hit a floater through a Bryant Rucker foul, then converted on the three-point play to put Stanford up 40-39 with three and a half minutes to go.
“Chasson didn’t have his best stuff offensively tonight,” said Dawkins. “But he still ran our team. As a point guard you’re judge on winning, and we still won.”
Randle then hit another two free throws for a three-point lead with 150 ticks of the clock left.
“Coming down the stretch, he closed the game out hitting all the free throws we needed him to make. A lot of times, a player will get into that situation where things aren’t going well for him from the field and that snowballs into his entire game. I don’t think he allowed that. He showed a lot of maturity out there.”
In total, Stanford went to the charity stripe 12 times in the second half, making 7 from the line.
Stanford continued its scoring run with Nastic hitting a jumper for the Cardinal’s eight-straight point before Denver’s Brett Olson hit a jump-shot to pull the pioneers within four at 45-41 with just over a minute and a half to play. Denver hit just one more basket while sending the Cardinal to the line four times. The Cardinal converted on all four shots for the final 49-43 margin of victory.
The Cardinal won’t have to wait long for its next contest. Stanford looks to continue to emerge from its two week sabbatical by turning in a strong performance at home Wednesday night when Southern California foe Loyola Marymount University comes to the Silicon Valley for another non-conference affair.