By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Every team responds to losing streaks differently. After not tasting victory since Jan. 8 at Johnson and Wales, the UNO men’s basketball team had no choice but to get on the court and play.
Following an eight-game layoff, the Mavs faced three games in four days. Snow on Friday forced a rescheduling of Saturday’s game to Sunday.
UNO sandwiched two easy home wins around a close road victory and earned their first three-game winning streak of the season. The Mavs won 106-71 over Peru State Wednesday night at Sapp Fieldhouse, got a road victory at Avila 83-81 in Kansas City 24 hours later then returned home for a 79-68 win against Doane Sunday afternoon.
“The one thing I will give our team credit for is we’re doing something this year that no one else right now is going through,” said Mav Head Coach Derrin Hansen. “Not in a league, first year, our games are all over the place.
“We play ‘em fast and furious then we have big gaps. I thought our guys have handled that about as well as they could have going into that kind of a situation.”
Senior guard Mitch Albers continued his climb in the UNO record books with 17 points against Peru, a career-high 31 at Avila and 22 in the win over Doane. With a free throw for his fifth point on Wednesday, Albers moved into second place on the scoring list.
Albers’ 17 points left him with 1,673 for his career, 13 ahead of the second place career mark set by former Mav Dennis Forest from 1973 to 1977. The 31 points at Avila and 22 against Doane leaves Albers just 90 points away from all-time leading scorer Dean Thompson. Albers and the Mavs have four games remaining in the season.
“We had goals at the beginning of the season that we wanted to win some D-I games, and that’s all that’s on my mind,” Albers said. “We got one D-I win, I wanna get a couple more…if not four more. Really that’s all that’s on my mind.”
UNO began the three-game win streak by forcing 26 turnovers Wednesday night against Peru State. After the Bobcats got to within 50-52 2:38 into the second half, the Mavs went on a 25-5 run and pushed the two point lead out to 77-55.
“I thought they responded. We played better as a group,” said Hansen about his team’s performance once Peru State got back within two. “Instead of like in the first half when we tried to hit the home run, we tried to throw it over the top for five turnovers. I thought we hit a bunch of singles and that’s kind of what got us going.”
Over eight minutes Peru State turned the ball over seven times, and UNO came up with three steals. Albers was one of three Mavs with 17 points and four players from UNO in double figures.
John Karhoff added eight rebounds, all offensive, to his 17 points and two assists. Bill Freeman’s 17 and Jacques Coleman’s 15 were career highs for both players.
The following night the Mavs had a lead in Kansas City against Avila University, lost it in the second half then surged back ahead with just over a minute remaining. C.J. Carter’s 3 of 4 from three-point range got the freshman from Omaha 12 halftime points and UNO a 41-37 halftime lead.
As the two teams battled back and forth, a three by the Eagles’ Austin Stockard tied it 59-59 with 9:24 remaining. With Avila up 76-71 and 4:19 left in the game, Albers scored the next six Maverick points and had UNO down just one with 2:11 to go.
Trailing 77-78, the Eagles missed a shot then got two offensive boards and two extra shots, but John Karhoff finally grabbed a rebound with 1:15 remaining. Carter’s jumper in the lane just moments later regained the Mavs a lead at 79-78.
Caleb Steffensmeier and Alex Welhouse sank four in a row from the free throw line, and UNO escaped with an 83-81 victory. Albers scored a career-best 31 points including 21 in the second half and shot 11 for 15 from the field.
Albers added 22 more three days later to lead UNO in a 79-68 over Doane. Karhoff and Welhouse were also in double figures.
Welhouse added nine rebounds, Karhoff had seven and Carter had a team-high four assists. The Tigers stayed within striking distance for a while but back-to-back threes by Steffensmeier and Welhouse got UNO a 27-15 lead 7:36 into the first half. By halftime the Mavs lead 42-29.
UNO pushed the second half lead to as much as 23, but a 15-7 run by Doane to end the game made it a 79-68 win for the Mavs.
“We were on such a pace in the first semester where we just couldn’t add anything because we were either traveling, coming home or game prepping,” Hansen. “So we’re hoping to maybe in the next 23, 24 days to grow a little bit as a team…I think we still have that in us.”