By Mo Nuwwarah, Opinion Editor
Top seed Missouri Southern beat fourth-seeded UNO 88-85 in the semifinals of the MIAA Men’s Basketball Championship in Kansas City, ending the Mavericks’ season.
The Mavs’ final 19-9 record included a 0-7 mark against Missouri Southern, Washburn and Fort Hays State, the top three teams in the conference. All three advanced to the regional tournament, while UNO fell just short of qualifying.
“I think we were within a spot, two at the most,” Head Coach Derrin Hansen said. “That’s my guess but that’s all it is.”
The Mavs entered the regional rankings at No. 9 in late February before a Feb. 23 loss to nemesis Missouri Southern ended a seven-game winning streak and knocked UNO out of the rankings. The Lions also edged UNO 98-95 at Sapp Fieldhouse on Jan. 15.
UNO opened the conference tournament
with a 77-68 win over fifth-seeded Central Missouri Thursday. The Mavs shot just 42 percent from the field but made up for it by committing just five turnovers while forcing 16 – converting those into 14 points.
Senior guard Tyler Bullock led the way with a 23-point effort, shooting 7-for-15 from the field and making all nine of his free throws. Junior guard Mitch Albers added 17 points while sophomore forward Alex Welhouse had 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Mavs led by as much as 11 in the second half, but held off a late Mules charge with solid free throw shooting.
After a day off, UNO faced off against Missouri Southern knowing it likely needed a win to qualify for the regional tournament. The Mavs played like their season was on the line, opening up a 41-28 lead with 7:00 remaining in the half.
UNO senior guard Jeff Martin keyed the scorching start, hitting 4-of-6 first-half 3-pointers in just eight minutes on the court. Martin finished with 17 points. As a team the Mavs made 21-of-34 field goals in the half, good for 61.8 percent.
Missouri Southern stayed within striking distance, trailing 51-43 at halftime. They made their run early in the second half, taking a 60-57 lead after a 16-6 run. Center Keane Thomann, who finished with 30 points and seven rebounds, scored nine points during the surge.
The teams were tied at 82 with just over a minute left when Skyler Bowlin misfired on a 3-pointer. Missouri Southern’s Jason Adams, who had a game high nine rebounds, gathered the board and fed it back to Bowlin, who didn’t miss his second attempt, giving the Lions an 85-82 edge.
After a UNO turnover and a Missouri Southern free throw, Martin nailed a 3 to make it 86-85 with 11 seconds left. Bowlin then left the door wide open by making 1-of-2 free throws, but Martin missed an off-balance 3 that would have likely won the game.
Bowlin again split a pair of free throws, and Martin’s full-court heave was off the mark.
Hansen said his team played well, and gave Missouri Southern credit for the win.
“I wasn’t disappointed in the effort or the execution,” he said. “It took a really good team to beat us.”
Bullock again led the team with 20 points, while Albers scored 15. Welhouse scored 13 points and pulled down six rebounds for the Mavs, who shot 52.6 percent from the field, including 13-for-25 from three-point range.
The Mavs won 16 of their final 21 games, dating to a 74-72 loss at Emporia State on Dec. 8.
“I couldn’t ask any more of our guys,” Hansen said. “You’re disappointed for your seniors. We had a really good year.”