The No. 3 Denver Pioneers' run for a 2012 Sun Belt Tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament came to an end on Monday night with a loss to the No. 7 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, 67-63. The top four teams are now all eliminated from the tournament, leaving the Hilltoppers to face the No. 5 North Texas Mean Green on Tuesday night for the tournament championship and a spot in the Big Dance.
The Pioneers started the second half down by three points, 34-31, but the Hilltoppers were able to keep their shooting percentage above 50 percent while Denver's sank to 45 percent. Brian Stafford led the team with 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting. Royce O'Neale provided strong play with 15 points and nine rebounds, but his six turnovers left much to be desired. The team had 12 in total to just 10 assists.
The Hilltoppers were able to find the free throw line 34 times, sinking 24 of them. The Pioneers, on the other hand, hit the charity stripe 12-of-16 times. Western Kentucky's George Fant went 6-of-8 from the field and 7-of-9 at the line to lead the team with 19 points. Kahlil McDonald was a sharpshooter with three of his four treys hitting the mark. He had 14 points in total.
The Pioneers' dreams of an NCAA Tournament bid ended, but the National Invitation Tournament awaits.
For updates on the tournament, stick with SB Nation Denver. Head over to SB Nation NCAA Basketball for more news and notes from around the college hoops world. Stay up to date with the 2012 Sun Belt Tournament bracket.