By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
The UNO men’s basketball team didn’t allow Pittsburg State to ruin Senior Day, winning 85-69 Saturday at Sapp Fieldhouse. Fittingly, seniors led the way.
Tyler Bullock led the Mavs with 18 points, seven assists, and nine rebounds, which tied a career high. Jeff Martin and Torrian Harris added 16 points apiece.
Bullock said he wanted to follow in the footsteps of past senior standouts Andrew Bridger and Mike Jenkins.
“I just kind of want to keep the chain going,” he said. “That’s what this program’s all about.”
Both teams battled for control in the early going. After Pittsburg State’s Adrian Herrera hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 19 with 12 minutes left in the first half, Martin keyed a 12-0 run to give the Mavs a lead they never relinquished. He hit two three-pointers and a driving layup during the surge.
“I’m shooting the ball well now,” he said. “I don’t mind playing less minutes as long as our team’s getting W’s.”
The Mavs (18-8, 15-7 MIAA) enter the conference tournament as winners of eight of their last nine games. The Gorillas (13-13, 9-13) dropped seven of their last eight and fell just short of a tournament berth. They played with a palpable sense of urgency, knowing the season was on the line.
“We knew they were going to come in and fight,” Bullock said. “Any time you get a team with nothing to lose and everything to gain, they’re going to give you everything they’ve got.”
The Gorillas cut a 12-point halftime deficit to six by sinking six of seven free-throw attempts to start the second half. Harris picked up a technical foul and a personal foul in one possession and was forced to ride the bench for a while.
“He’s by far our best defender, so when you lose a player like that it’s always a minor setback,” Bullock said. “That just means guys have to step up.”
Caleb Steffensmeier hit a layup, Bullock drove for two more and Martin hit a 3-pointer to put the Gorillas in the rear view mirror for good.
UNO head coach Derrin Hansen was pleased to see his team put aside the feelings of Senior Day and focus on the game.
“It can be emotional,” he said. “I said, ‘the quicker you make it a regular game, the better your memories are going to be in 12, 15 years.’ And I thought our guys did that.”
The Mavs will enter the conference tournament seeded fourth.
“We’re the defending champs,” Bullock said. “We’re going down there to win the tournament.”