Omaha faces tough challenge in North Dakota first round at the Summit League Tournament


Ben Helwig

Photo by Maria Nevada/the Gateway

Omaha has already beat them twice, but nonetheless Saturday’s matchup against North Dakota presents a lot of challenges for the Mavs.

The Mavs and Fighting Hawks will square off as the No. 2 and No. 7 seed respectively in the first round of the Summit League Tournament Saturday.

The two teams met first on Jan. 10 in Grand Forks with the Mavericks winning 92-91. The high-scoring affair was highlighted by a fourteen-point comeback from the Mavs and late three from Mitch Hahn (naturally) that ultimately sealed the Mavs’ victory. Matt Pile had a solid game with 20 points and 10 boards.

In part two of the regular season series, the Mavs trounced UND 90-72 at Baxter Arena. Zach Jackson led the way in points with 22.

A big difference between the two games was that North Dakota was without senior forward Conner Avants in the second game of the series. In the first game, Avants had 24 points and 6 rebounds. With Avants back in the lineup, the Mavs are expecting a close, competitive game similar to their first contest this season.

“He can really do some things down around the paint, down around the rim,” said Mavericks head coach Derrin Hansen on Avants. “It makes him effective as well as the other guys around him. He adds a lot to their team.”

Sophomore forward Pile will shoulder a lot of the responsibility covering Avants, but having seen him once before, Pile is ready for the challenge.

“Avants is a great player, and I didn’t really know him at all, so I wasn’t really ready for that,” said Pile. “So now that I’ve seen him once, watched some film, I’ll be ready to handle what he throws at me on Saturday.”

North Dakota’s Cortez Seales also presents challenges to the Mavs. Averaging 14.3 points per game, Seales is the team leader in points for the Fighting Hawks. He had 33 combined points in the previous two games against the Mavericks.

The Mavericks, who have settled in to an eight man rotation, will rely heavily on their leaders Jackson and Hahn. Jackson, in the two games against North Dakota, shot 59% from the floor. Hahn, on the other hand, has been a very efficient scorer down the stretch. He has been the go-to guy in late game situations. Considering this is the conference tournament, expect craziness, close games, and Hahn at the end.

Omaha comes into the 2 vs. 7 matchup as a two-seed, a year after they themselves were a seven-seed, when they lost their first round to South Dakota.

North Dakota is playing its first ever Summit League Tournament game after coming over from the Big Sky Conference. North Dakota won the Big Sky in 2017, earning them a ticket to March Madness. North Dakota’s inclusion in the Summit League has brought the total conference teams up to 9, forcing one team to miss the tournament. This year’s unlucky team was Denver.

The game is set to tip from Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. Saturday at 8:30.