Back home for a game for the first time in more than a month, the UNO men's basketball team is a different group than it was the last time it was in the Ralston Arena.
The Mavericks are hoping to show that in a 7 p.m. game against Benedictine (Kan.), an NAIA team coached by former UNO assistant Ryan Moody.
The last time UNO played a home game, it was shocked by another NAIA school from Kansas, St. Mary, an 8-5 team that has lost twice to Peru State. Two days after beating UNO, St. Mary lost to Benedictine 60-59.
But since that loss to St. Mary, the Mavs have faced the likes of Texas Tech, Tulane, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa State — not to mention Summit League favorites North Dakota State and South Dakota State and future Summit League foe Denver.
UNO went 1-9 on its road trip, including 0-8 in true road games, while making progress here and having setbacks there against a high level of competition.
One of the players making consistent progress has been Marcus Tyus, a 6-foot-1 freshman guard from Ramsey, Minn.
“He's grown up a lot for us,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “It's tough for a freshman to go on a 10-game road trip. It's not an easy transition, and we haven't thrown him any lobs — and I'm not talking alley-oop passes.
“He's learning on the fly. We're proud of what he's done, but he still has a very high ceiling.”
Tyus is averaging 5.9 points and has pulled down 2.9 rebounds per game, the fifth-best average on the team.
Tyus is shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 36.7 percent (11 of 30) from 3-point range.
“He really has been a good boost for us, giving a spark off the bench,” UNO forward John Karhoff said. “I think we're going to see more of that as the season goes.”
Tyus, who averaged 27 points per game as a senior at Anoka High School, where he was an all-state selection, was a redshirt candidate prior to the season.
“I wanted to play regardless, but me and the coaches and my parents and people close to me came to a decision,” Tyus said. “I thought it would be better for me not to redshirt. I felt like I could come off the bench and help the team this year.”
It was never a question if Tyus had the ability to step in and contribute as a freshman, Hansen said. He just wanted to make sure that there were enough minutes to justify the decision.
Tyus entered the season opener against Northern Illinois in the second half, scored seven points in seven minutes, and has been a solid contributor ever since, playing an average of 17.2 minutes per game.
He had a career-high 17 points in a Nov. 23 loss to Bethune-Cookman and had 12 points in a Dec. 9 loss at Iowa State.
“He wanted to play, and I was trying to give him all the guidance I could, letting him know that some nights he might play 22 minutes, some nights it might be eight,” Hansen said. “We tried to put all the different scenarios in front of him. At this point, it's been good for everybody.”
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