Cinderella stories make for great children’s books. They do not make great reality.
Certainly, a win in Tuesday night’s Summit League final against North Dakota State would have capped off a wonderful Cinderella story for the Mavs. After going 9-22 in the previous season, the team found a way to gather win after win. Mitch Hahn hit buzzer-beater after buzzer-beater. Matt Pile cleaned up on the boards. Zach Jackson moved up on the Omaha historical scoring leaderboard. It seemed destined that Omaha would get another chance at the title that had eluded them so closely in 2017.
After South Dakota State was knocked off in the first round of the Summit tournament, even the professionals bought in by placing Omaha in their latest bracketology predictions. The fans bought in – the local media bought in – everybody bought in.
It was not meant to be. North Dakota State defeated Omaha by a score of 73-63.
“Our attention to detail wasn’t great early,” said Head Coach Derrin Hansen.
Put simply, the Mavs weren’t their usual selves. Instead of the typical accuracy above 50 percent, Omaha shot 47 percent. Pile reached early foul trouble which effectively sidelined him for the remainder of the first half. And instead of hitting the clutch late-game shots that Maverick fans have been so accustomed to, no shots were sunk.
“That’s the thing about motivation – it’s hard to get and it’s hard to stop,” Hansen added.
“We were confident for most of the game,” said Zach Jackson. “We all fought as hard as we could – they outplayed us today.”
Mitch Hahn also thought it would come back around. “When we tied at 51, I kinda thought it would swing our way,” he said.
North Dakota State leapt into the lead and never looked back with a few exceptions as a result of Omaha runs in the second half. “You can’t play uphill all night,” said Hansen. “We couldn’t overcome that.” North Dakota State led for over 36 minutes.
Certainly, in any other game this season, it would have swung their way. But reality isn’t kind to the picture-perfect ending. Just like 2017, the ending leaves a new generation of Mavericks disappointed but hungry to try again.