By Paul Freelend
North Central Conference leaders South Dakota State became the first men’s basketball team to leave the Sapp Fieldhouse with a victory over the weekend, but UNO rebounded the following night to down Augustana and split the weekend’s games.
UNO fell 78-74 to SDSU, the Mavericks’ first home loss of the season, and recovered in time to post an 85-80 win over Augustana.
Maverick guard Alvin Mitchell said UNO was expecting a physical contest, but that his team’s execution came up short in the end.
“[South Dakota State] played a little bit tougher than we did tonight,” Mitchell said. “They just killed us inside. All week we talked about their size and how we would have to match their toughness, but they out-toughed us.”
“We knew it was going to be a physical game. We kept getting the good looks that we usually get, but we just couldn’t get them to go down. When that happens, good teams step up and start making defensive stops, but we couldn’t get that done.”
SDSU led by as many as 11 points during the second half, but the Mavericks clawed back to pull even at 62-62 with 6:19 remaining in the game. Seth Nelson scored five consecutive points to stake UNO to its biggest lead of 70-64 with 4:43 left, but the Mavericks went 0-10 afterwards, while the Jackrabbits continued to hammer away. SDSU went 3-5 from the field and 7-8 from the free throw line to come back and seal the win.
Maverick head coach Kevin McKenna said SDSU’s toughness and advantage at the free throw line proved to be too much for UNO to overcome.
“South Dakota was very tough defensively,” McKenna said. “They were able to get to the free throw line and we weren’t. That, I think, was the difference in the game. We were able to get 22 offensive rebounds, too, but we couldn’t finish when we got them.”
SDSU hit 29-34 free throws, while the Mavericks went 12-16.
Mitchell led UNO with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Seth Nelson scored 18 points and Corey Hahn had 11 points and seven rebounds. Tola Dada added 10 points and eight rebounds.
UNO’s emotional and physical exhaustion was evident the following night against Augustana. The Mavericks trailed just three times in the contest and never by more than four points, but could not put the Vikings away for good until the final buzzer.
McKenna said there was some energy lacking on UNO’s part, but reminded his team that they were not the only ones going through such a spell.
“It’s tough to come back after a game like that,” McKenna said. “The team had its hopes up and spent a lot of energy. Augustana had the same thing happen to them against Northern Colorado, though. I told the team that everyone has it happen to them at some point in time and that we need to show we can rebound from that.”
Augustana stuck around due in large part to Jon Wagner and Sean Hilgenberg, who scored 31 and 24 points, respectively. The rest of the Vikings, though, would only manage 25 points.
Hahn led UNO (15-5, 6-3 NCC) with 23 points, while Mitchell had 17 points and Adam Wetzel scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds.
UNO now sits atop a three-way tie for third place in the NCC, ahead of St. Cloud State and South Dakota. SDSU, who fell 97-85 to Northern Colorado the night after defeating the Mavericks, leads the conference at 14-3 (8-1) and North Dakota is second at 12-5 (7-2). The Fighting Sioux will come to Omaha Jan. 25 and UNO will be looking to avenge their 92-88 overtime loss from earlier in the season.