By Kevin Clemens
The men’s basketball team improved to 5-0 this week for the first time since the 2003-04 season. In Tuesday night’s road match-up, the Mavericks took the court against future Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association conference rival Missouri Western. The Mavericks beat Missouri Western 78-72 after an impressive 13-4 run in the closing minutes of the ball game.
“It’s nice we are 5-0, but we are looking towards the big picture,” said Head Coach Derrin Hansen after Tuesday’s win. “We told our guys to continue to practice hard and to get better with each drill.”
The Mavericks were once again led by their leading scorer Michael Jenkins who ended the game tied for the team high in points with Andrew Bridger at 16. Jenkins, who is averaging a team high of 19 points per game, also had nine rebounds in the contest.
Jenkins scored nine of his points from the free-throw line as he continues to show his ability to draw contact. Jenkins, who finished last year near the top of the nation in free-throw percentage, is averaging nearly 10 attempts per game from the charity stripe. This versatile scorer appears to have the ability to get to the basket anytime he wants.
Senior big man Jerry Bennett had another strong game on Tuesday night. Bennett scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the game. The forward/center from Waterloo has been impressive as of late, contributing two double-doubles in the last three games.
In Bennett’s first game back after an injury he recorded his first double-double as a Maverick, only to follow up that performance with another on Tuesday night.
The other senior on the team, Denny Johnston, continued his consistent play on Tuesday night by playing big minutes for the Mavericks in a close victory. Johnston recorded a double-double of his own on the night by scoring 12 points and ripping down 10 boards.
Both seniors on this squad have been producing big results in each game. One of the preseason question marks surrounding this Maverick team was the lack of seniors, but it appears that these two are picking up the slack as both are nearly averaging a double-double on the season.
“Denny and Jerry have been playing great,” Hansen said. “It’s good to see them both playing well and they have definitely earned it through hard work.”
The 13-4 run that gave the Mavericks the victory Tuesday night was capped off with seven straight points by the Mavs to give them a 69-58 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the game. The Missouri Western Griffons came back fighting after the run by UNO and pulled within four points.
UNO then answered in impressive fashion by connecting on four consecutive free throws, courtesy of Andrew Bridger and Justin Peterson.
“We are looking to get the best available shot,” said Hansen in regards to his team’s offensive explosion in the season’s early going. “If defenses are going to leave open our three-point shooters, then we are going to take it.”
Fundamentals once again won the Mavericks this game, as they dominated the boards 55-38.
“Jerry Bennett and Denny Johnston have been rebounding the ball great,” Hansen said. “Everyone on the team has been rebounding the ball well.”
The Mavs also outscored Missouri Western 28-11 from the free-throw line to make up for sub-40 percent shooting from the field.
Reggie Bunch led the Griffons with 22 points and Lonnel Johnson added 19.
The Mavericks will be back in action Saturday night when they travel to Northwest Missouri State, another MIAA conference member. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcasted on KOZN 1620-AM.
UNO will return home next weekend to face Emporia State in the Sapp Fieldhouse on Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7 p.m.