Men’s basketball prepares for conference play

Photo courtesy OMavs

Kenneth Pancake

On Nov. 29, after the buzzer sounded and Omaha got their first win of the season against the Drake Bulldogs, Maverick star Zach Jackson said, “Being 0-7, being 1-7, it doesn’t matter, it’s not our goal… we know what our team goal is and that’s what we’re focused on.”

The Omaha men’s basketball team is keeping that one goal in mind, and Coach Derrin Hansen said that goal perfectly at the beginning of the season: “At the end of the day, (the Summit) is a one-bid league… if you can be as good as you can, and as healthy as you can going into the league playing those (tough non-conference) games, then they’re gonna benefit you in January and February.”

Fortunately, the team remained as competitive as they could, facing a daunting non-conference schedule with top-tier opponents in 10 other states and all four continental time zones, Omaha finished by winning three of their last four contests (the one loss in that stretch was at No. 13 Kansas) and maintaining a perfect record at home.

The first of those three victories came against Arkansas State on Dec. 13. After a tremendous beginning to the second half for the Mavericks, the Red Wolves pushed Omaha’s 19-point lead down to a tie, after going on a 12-0 run. Arkansas State was up by a point with under a minute to go when Jackson’s missed 3-point shot was rebounded and layed up by freshman Matt Pile. Two more free ones would bring the final score to 77-74 in Omaha’s favor.

“That was a terrible shot,” Jackson joked after the game. “They came out firing at the half, we just had to pull it out at the end.” Jackson led the team in scoring for the sixth straight game, finishing 8-of-11 with 22 points. Lamar Wofford-Humphrey led the team in rebounds with eight boards.

Omaha went on to face Cornell College at home on Dec. 17, winning by a score of 99 to 58. Sophomore JT Gibson scored 21 points (his personal best), and was joined in double-digit scoring by Jackson, Wofford-Humphrey, KJ Robinson and Pile. UNO shot 50 percent from behind the arc. The greatest story of the day, however, was Hansen: the win marked number 200 for the head coach who has coached UNO for his entire career.

The Mavericks went right back to work, facing No.14 Kansas the very next day. The Jayhawks would be the Omaha program’s toughest Division I opponent yet, who ended up overpowering the Mavs, 109-64. “We’ve played two other Big 12 schools, too. But I think the major difference between the teams was the atmosphere that we were playing in,” said Jackson after the game. He was limited to 10 points, while Daniel Norl was the only other Maverick in double digits (13). Jackson would also garner 10 rebounds, granting him a double-double. Omaha then went on to win a rematch at home against Montana State, 84-71.

Now, having endured 12 losses of varying severity (the team is 4-12), the team is finding encouragement from Hansen’s 200th career win as the program’s head coach, winning three of their last four games and remaining undefeated at home.

The team can refocus on the original goal set before the season began: overcome conference opponents, get a good seed for the conference tournament and win the Summit League.