By Paul Freelend
UNO’s men’s basketball team lost in the semifinals of the North Central Conference tournament, but received an at-large bid to reach its first NCAA tournament since 1984.
North Dakota beat the Mavericks 68-53 in the NCC semifinals, due mostly in part to a frigid shooting performance from UNO. The Mavs shot 20-64 (31.3 percent) from the field, including 1-14 (7.1 percent) on three-point shots. North Dakota had also struggled from the field in the first half, shooting 11-30 (36.7 percent) and 1-7 from behind the arc, but the Fighting Sioux found their range in the second half and shot 48.4 percent from the field to pull away for the win.
UNO started quickly, jumping out to leads as big as 12 points at 14-2 and 16-4, but the Mavs’ shooting would sour down the stretch. The Mavericks had their last lead at 32-30 with 15:04 left in the second half before North Dakota’s shooting got back on track.
Eddie King led UNO (23-8) with 15 points and was one of three Mavericks in double-digit scoring. Tola Dada scored 12 points and had 10 rebounds, while Corey Hahn had 11 points and eight rebounds. However, no other Mav player scored more than five points. Junior college transfer Jerome Beasley led North Dakota (19-9) with 23 points on 11-23 shooting and 14 rebounds. Beasley was the only Fighting Sioux player in double-digit scoring.
UNO will take part in the 48-team NCAA Division II tournament and will play in the six-team North Central Regional, which will be held in Brookings, S.D., on the campus of host and top seed South Dakota State. The Mavericks will play Durango, Colo.-based Fort Lewis College (21-8) Friday night with the start time yet to be announced. The Skyhawks earned their ticket to the tournament by virtue of winning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, upsetting host school Nebraska-Kearney 72-71 in overtime. The game will be UNO’s eighth trip to the Division II tournament, the school’s first in 18 years, and will be the first meeting between the Mavs and Fort Lewis. The Mavs have a 5-14 overall record in tournament play and are 2-5 in first-round games.
Minnesota-Duluth (19-10) and Metro State (23-6) face off in the other regional first round game, with the winner to face second-seeded UNK. Should UNO defeat Fort Lewis, they would face SDSU on Saturday night. The regional championship game is Sunday and the winner will advance to the Division II Elite Eight tournament to be held in Evansville, Ind.