Mavs rout Skyhawks, bounced by Jacks


By Paul Freelend

UNO’s first foray into NCAA national tournament since the Ronald Reagan era may have ended in disappointment, but the Mavericks acquitted themselves honorably in the North Central regional in earning a season-ending split.

Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament champions Fort Lewis College collapsed under UNO’s pressure, falling 88-58 to the Mavs. Top seed and North Central Conference champions South Dakota State showed exactly why they were the cream of the NCC crop, though, as they defeated the Mavs 96-76.

Fort Lewis entered their first-round game against UNO as Division II’s leaders in three-point shooting, averaging over 10 three-pointers per game. Head coach Kevin McKenna’s Mavericks, though, turned up their defensive pressure and held the Skyhawks to a 4-22 effort on three-pointers. The combination of Fort Lewis’ poor shooting and UNO’s advantage in size and rebounding made for a Maverick rout. The Mavs ended the game with a 47-28 rebounding edge and held Fort Lewis to 20-59 shooting (33.9 percent) overall.

Skyhawk head coach Bob Hofman gave no excuses in regard to his team’s loss and said the Mavericks were the superior side.

“Basically, they played a whole lot better than we did,” Hofman said. “There aren’t a whole lot of excuses to be made, but I have plenty if you want to hear them.”

UNO had five different players in double-digit scoring. Corey Hahn led the way for the Mavs with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, while Eddie King had 14 points and seven rebounds. Seth Nelson had 13 points and three assists, Dan Morrow had 12 points and Micah Kohls chipped in with 10 points. Fort Lewis (21-9) had just one player in double digits as Trevor Lorz led the Skyhawks with 11 points.

McKenna said SDSU would pose a very different problem for his team in contrast to the run-and-gun Skyhawks.

“[SDSU] plays really hard, they push the ball up the floor and we’ve got to match that intensity,” McKenna said. “We have to find a way to create our own momentum somehow. They’re as good — and I’m not saying this just because we’re playing them — as some of the teams in the [Missouri] Valley I coached against the last seven years. I’d like to see some of those teams come up here and play them. Of course, I’d like to see some of those teams come and play us, too.”

SDSU had won its two prior meetings with UNO, coming from behind to win in Omaha 78-74 and winning 87-76 in Brookings, S.D. The Jackrabbits opened the game on an 11-1 run and took leads as large as 12 points before the Mavs found their offensive rhythm. UNO closed to within seven points at 27-20, but a contentious intentional foul called on UNO’s Eric Wiebers gave SDSU the momentum going into halftime.

Leading 51-32 at the break, the Jackrabbits continued to hammer away at the Mavericks. SDSU took its largest lead of the game at 78-51 before UNO made its final charge. UNO’s defense clamped down on the tournament’s top seed and held the Jackrabbits without a field goal for more than seven minutes. A three-pointer from Wiebers brought the lead to 81-64 and under 20 points for the first time, 67-49. An Adam Wetzel lay-up and another three from Wiebers pulled the Mavs to within 13 points at 82-69 with 6:38 left to play.

SDSU recovered, however, and scored four quick points in reply to ease the fears of the partisan crowd at Frost Arena and held off UNO’s advances to clinch their spot in the regional final.

McKenna was saddened by the way the Mavericks’ record-setting season ended, but also said it did not diminish what UNO had accomplished.

“Obviously, we didn’t play our best basketball, and I think South Dakota State had a lot to do with that,” McKenna said. “They’re a heck of a team, especially here on this floor. I wish we could have played our best basketball tonight and seen how we stacked up. However, the players competed as they had all year. I feel bad for our seniors, but I still feel proud of this season and everything they’ve accomplished.”

Wetzel led UNO (24-9) with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots, while Al Lainio had 10 points and nine rebounds. Alvin Mitchell and Hahn each had nine points for the Mavericks. Derrick Schantz paced SDSU (24-5) with 23 points.

UNO finished its season with 24 wins, a school record, and won its first NCAA tournament game since 1984, an 84-81 win over Northern Michigan. The Mavericks will be without four players from this year’s squad as Mitchell, King, Lainio and Hahn all closed their UNO careers with a banner season.


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