Omaha Basketball hits three-game snag in conference play


Jack Hoover

Omaha’s Ayo Akinwole goes for three against North Dakota State. Photo by Andre Sessions/the Gateway

For the past week, it seemed like it was the Omaha men’s basketball team versus the Dakotas and for this time at least, it was the Dakotas who got the upper hand.

Over a six day stretch, from Feb. 2-8, the Mavericks played South Dakota, North Dakota State and South Dakota State in succession. This tight stretch of games was not made any easier by the fact that these teams occupied the top three spots in the Summit League conference standings.

In this first game of this stretch, Omaha took on the South Dakota Coyotes at Baxter Arena. The Mavericks went into the game looking for revenge on the Coyotes after getting beat by South Dakota 91-81 on Jan. 11 in Vermillion, South Dakota. In addition, one of the longest home court winning streaks was on the line—Omaha had not lost in 16 straight games at Baxter Arena.

Early on, it looked like that streak might stretch one game further, as the Mavericks started out hot against South Dakota. Omaha was led by K.J. Robinson’s stellar shooting performance. He was a perfect four-for-four from three-point range in the first half. At one point in the half, Omaha led by as much as 14 points and ended up taking a three-point lead into the half.

The game remained even for much of the second half, as both teams battled to take control of the game. It seemed that Omaha would have a good chance to see out the game when junior Matt Pile went to shoot two free throws with eight second lefts in the game. Unfortunately for Pile and the Mavericks, the first free throw clattered off the rim and was rebounded by South Dakota.

Taking the ball down the court, South Dakota’s Triston Simpson was fouled on his way to the basket and made both of his subsequent free throws to give his team a one-point lead. Omaha’s chance at a buzzer-beating win came up just short as Robinson attempted to shoot from three. As the timer sounded, Omaha tasted defeat on their home court for the first time in over year.

“Every loss hurts, but it definitely hurts a little bit more to lose in front of the fans,” Robinson said in the post-game press conference. “They mean a lot to us, so we don’t ever want to lose in front of them.”

The Mavericks did not have much time to rebound from that loss, as they quickly had to turn around and play the North Dakota State Bison, again at home, just three days later.

The bitterly close loss to South Dakota seemed to take some of the wind out of Omaha’s sails in their second game, and they came up short in a 78-86 lose to the Bison. Overall, the Mavericks were unable to respond to the Bison’s hot shooting. North Dakota State’s 11 made three-pointers out of 25 attempts put them over the top.

In the final game of their three-game stretch, Omaha traveled north to play perennial Summit League contender South Dakota State. The two teams already met once this year, with Omaha topping the Jackrabbits 81-78 at Baxter Arena on Dec. 29.

This time around, the script was flipped on the Mavericks, as they found themselves losing 64-82 to South Dakota State on their home turf. While it was on overall disappointing night for Omaha, there was one positive to take from the outing. Robinson left his mark on Omaha history, as with his 20-point performance, he became the 41st thousand-point scorer in Maverick history.

With the three consecutive losses, Omaha basketball will look to turn things around quickly. The Mavericks next game is on Feb. 12 on the road against Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles are right behind the Mavericks in the Summit League standings, so the game could prove crucial as both teams jockey for post-season positioning. After that, Omaha will return to Baxter Arena on Feb. 16 to play the Denver Pioneers on Senior Day.