For the first three games of the season there wasn’t too much that went right for the men’s basketball team.
Opening with a loss to Minnesota, the team went into half time tied with Division III Buena Vista, before finally taking control in the second half. And a loss at home to Northern Arizona left a lot to be desired–the Big Sky team won only five games last season.
But when the team turned a corner, it turned sharply. The Mavericks took the Colorado Buffaloes to the wire in Boulder on Nov. 20, losing by a score of 79-75.
“Something sparked us in Colorado,” Head Coach Derrin Hansen said. “Our practices led into us playing well in Colorado… which led back home.”
“We should have came out with it… we just felt more together as a team,” said guard Ayo Akinwole about the Colorado game.
The team next went to Florida, where they played Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason favorite Bethune-Cookman–and won.
After that 76-56 victory, Omaha came back to Baxter Arena on Nov. 24 to defeat the Montana State Bobcats, 89-65.
“It’s been a rapid growth in the last 16 days,” Hansen said.
The Mavericks had the pace and the connection of a much older team, sending perfectly-timed passes to the inside for quick scores. Perhaps the most obvious improvement from past games was in the three-point shooting game – UNO scored 14 treys, a season best for the team.
In addition, two Mavericks broke personal scoring records. Zach Jackson scored 33 points (with a prior record of 29), and Ayo Akinwole scored 20 (with a prior record of 12).
The kicker? Akinwole didn’t even know he would start until the morning of, when he was informed that starting Point Guard KJ Robinson would sit out with a minor shoulder injury.
“Kinda knew KJ was a little banged up for the last couple days,” Akinwole said. “All the guys believed in me.”
It was by far Akinwole’s best day as a Maverick. He was 8 for 8 from the field, including four three-point field goals. He also led the team in assists (six) and steals (three).
Akinwole wasn’t the only star – Jackson shot 10 of 14 from the field, shooting 6 of 9 from beyond the arc.
Overall, the team shot 57.9 percent from the field, and 48.3 percent from the three-point line. It was a dominating performance.
“That’s the most complete game we’ve had in a while,” Jackson said.
The Mavericks will take a road trip that starts with a game against Big 12 opponent Iowa State on Nov. 26. The game can be heard on 1180 Zone 2.