Men’s basketball finishes best regular season in D-I program history, prepares for Summit League Championship

In the last home game of the season, KJ Robinson attempts to inbound a ball from the baseline. Photo courtesy Maria Nevada.

Kenneth Pancake

Omaha entered the week with two games left on their plate.

One was against perennial trouble-maker Oral Roberts. The other was against Denver. Both were road games and both were the opposing teams’ senior nights. This was in addition to UNO’s game against North Dakota State the previous week. That game was also away. That game was also NDSU’s senior night.

Despite the odds stacked against them, Omaha managed to survive the three-game stretch with a 2-1 record. After a win against NDSU, the team fell to Oral Roberts on Feb. 28. But the Mavericks downed Denver in the final game of the regular season to officially claim the number two seed in the Summit League Championship next weekend.

With a few days of rest, Omaha traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to play the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles at the end of February with a lot to play for: if Omaha won its final two games, the team would exit the conference schedule as the number one seed over South Dakota State (even if SDSU won every remaining game of theirs, Omaha would claim the tiebreaker).

It was not to be – Omaha fell 84-80. Oral Roberts claimed the number five seed and the bragging rights of being the only Summit team to sweep Omaha.

“We’ve always been kind of chasing teams,” said Omaha’s coach, Derrin Hansen, on his radio show after the game. “I really felt like we were the hunted tonight… People are going to come after us. They’re trying to hunt us down, and we have to respond better.”

As Omaha often finds themselves, the Mavs were down at halftime by five points. UNO came back during the second half to lead by nine with just over six minutes to play. ORU returned the favor by tying the game with 3:34 remaining. Oral Roberts kept Omaha behind by at least two possessions each time the Mavericks got ahold of the ball in the final minute and key free throw shooting sealed the win for Oral Roberts.

Mitch Hahn scored a career-high 35 points.

The Mavericks headed straight for Denver to play a Saturday afternoon game. The Mavs hoped that Western Illinois would pull the upset against SDSU to bring Omaha back to the top of the league table. While the upset many miles north failed, Omaha defeated Denver by a score of 86-76 to take the number two seed in the tournament.

The loss ended Denver’s season, eliminating them from the first non-automatic Summit League tournament.

“It was a tough locker room Thursday night,” Hasen said on a postgame radio interview. “We had a chance to finish one and we didn’t.”

The longtime Omaha coach acknowledged that the team has pulled off wins in similar situations this year, but that it didn’t work out that way this time.

“This team will refocus… we’re going to give it everything we have up there. That’s all I can tell Maverick fans,” Hansen said.

The Mavericks (19-10, 13-3 Summit) set Division I records for both conference wins and regular season wins. They will play in the first round of the Summit League Championship at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 9 against North Dakota. The game will be available on ESPN+ and MidcoSN, along with broadcasts on 1180 Zone 2 and MavRadio.