UNO 76, NORTH DAKOTA STATE 69
UNO made a statement this week at Baxter Arena about just how far this program has come.
The Mavericks, in their first season of full Division I eligibility, posted consecutive home victories over the teams that have represented the Summit League in the NCAA tournament for the last four years.
UNO (17-10) piggybacked its thrilling Wednesday win over conference leader South Dakota State by beating shorthanded North Dakota State (16-10) 76-69 to stay in the league's championship race.
"Three or four years ago, we could not have done this — or any of it," Mavs coach Derrin Hansen said. "Not that we (didn't) have good players or anything like that, but we're a little bit deeper, a little bit better, a little bit farther along. To be able to do that against those two teams, I'm very happy for our guys."
UNO shot 64 percent from the field (14 of 22) over the first 16 minutes of the second half to distance itself from a Bison team playing its third straight game without injured leading scorer Paul Miller. The Mavs led 19-11 early but hit what Hansen called "a lull" in the first half and were up 34-31 at the break.
A 14-2 surge in the second half pushed the lead to 12. UNO held off North Dakota State from there. Jake White went 5 for 6 from the floor after halftime and paced the Mavs with 23 points on a 10-of-14 effort.
"When Coach talked to us in the locker room (about) the second half, he really just honed in on just having a little more effort, more energy," White said. "That's what we did. And it led to a victory."
Devin Patterson (16 points), Tra-Deon Hollins (14) and Tre'Shawn Thurman (10) also finished in double figures for UNO, which improved to 9-4 in the Summit. The Bison dropped to 6-6 in the conference with their second road loss of the week, even though guards Khy Kabellis and Kory Brown combined for 39.
A.J. Jacobson, North Dakota State's preseason all-conference forward, played only five minutes in the first half because of foul trouble. He fouled out with only two points and attempted only three shots.
"We have a resilient bunch, and they're a bunch of fighters and competitors," Bison coach David Richman said. "But we just don't have the consistency right now."
The Mavs forced North Dakota State into 12 first-half turnovers and 17 in the game. Four of those came on steals by Hollins, the NCAA leader in the category, who also recorded six assists and four rebounds. The Omaha Central product was coming off a career night in the victory over South Dakota State.
"I really think the impact that Tra-Deon Hollins is having on this team and on this league can't be understated," Richman said. "And it's not just on one end of the floor. He does it on both ends. He's a high-level athlete. He has a high level of basketball intelligence. And he just makes winning plays."
Hollins set up Kyler Erickson for a 3-pointer that gave the Mavs their biggest lead at 62-49.
Wednesday: at IUPUI, 6 p.m. Feb. 20: at IPFW, 6 p.m. Feb. 25: Oral Roberts, 7 p.m.
Summit League tournament
March 5-8 in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The junior canned a triple of his own a short time later after the Bison had cut the UNO advantage to single digits.
It was a five-point game with a minute to go, then Hollins put away the second victory for the Mavs this season over the reigning Summit League tournament champions with a strong drive to the rim.
"It means a lot to me," Hollins said of UNO's season sweep of North Dakota State. "That team right there has been in the national tournament, and a couple of their players have played there. That's what we want to get to. Seeing we can beat them — not once, but twice — is a big confidence-booster."