It was exciting. It was fun. It was impressive. But most people would choose the word “heartbreaking” to describe the University of Nebraska at Omaha men’s basketball season.
The Mavericks finished their regular season with an overall record of 18-14, going 9-7 in the Summit League Conference. Some might say going four games above .500 isn’t the most braggadocios record, but Omaha made it all the way to the Summit League Championship in their conference tournament; the furthest any UNO team has gone.
The first game of the tournament might have been UNO’s best of the week. After trailing by nine points at half, the Mavericks came back against Fort Wayne and nudged past the Mastodons 84-80.After the game, senior Marcus Tyus told the media they knew it was going to be a battle.
“We had to fight through it,” Tyus said. “We knew it was going to be a tough one going in.”
UNO was led by junior forward Tre’Shawn Thurman, who certainly made the argument for being the conference tournament’s Most Valuable Player last week.
The Omaha native finished the first game with his eighth double-double of the season, racking up a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds. It was Thurman’s emphatic slam dunk that gave UNO its first and only lead of the game with 42 seconds on the clock to seal the deal. He mentioned after the game that Omaha wanted it more.
“Tonight we were just the tougher team,” Thurman said.
In the semifinals, Omaha was all offense and they took care of business. Facing an Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis team that split with UNO on the regular season, the Mavericks put their foot down on the gas pedal and finished with a blowout 90-62 win.
Thurman and sophomore Mitch Hahn led the team on the offensive side of the ball. Thurman finished with another double-double, his ninth of the year, with 12 rebounds and shot 6-of-9 to tally up 15 points.
Hahn had perhaps his best game in a UNO jersey and has evidently become the Mavericks’ hot-hand heading into the next season. The Fremont native came off the bench and recorded his first double-double of his career with a team-high 21 points and 10 boards.
The Mavs made it to the championship and were playing their best basketball of the season. Just one more win and they would be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, UNO fell just shy to South Dakota State in the final seconds of play.
The game was riddled with lead changes and was neck-and-neck down to the wire. For the third game in a row, Thurman emerged as Omaha’s go-to man and led the team in scoring with 21 points and eight rebounds. UNO was up four points with five minutes to play, but the Summit League Player of the Year Mike Daum was on a roll that night, and pushed the Jackrabbits ahead in the last few minutes.
After a three-pointer from Hahn in the final minute, and a few missed free throws from SDSU, Omaha found itself down two points with just a few ticks on the clock. A desperation deep three from Tra’Deon Hollins was missed and that was all she wrote. After the game, Hollins said that he would’ve done the same thing if he had the chance.
“I knew I was shooting the three as soon as he missed it and we were down two,” Hollins said. “It’s something I thought about and prayed about. You can’t win them all.”
Although the loss was certainly heartbreaking, especially after how well the team battled in the tournament to make it the furthest any UNO team has gone in postseason play, the Mavs have to hold their heads high. Senior Marcus Tyus was proud of his team this year, despite coming up short.
“Not a lot of people expected us to make it this far,” Tyus said. “We had a great run and I am proud of our guys.”
Moral victories are often tossed around to losing teams that they almost lose their meaning. Yes, a win would’ve been ideal to send off the Mavs to the big dance, but making it all the way to the championship game is something UNO should be proud of.
Making it further than any other college from Nebraska in its conference championship has solidified UNO as a legitimate Division I team. Head coach Derrin Hansen gave all the credit to how hard his team worked all year.
“I am disappointed we didn’t win the game, but I am in no way disappointed with our team and our effort,” Hansen said. “Our guys were great; they were tremendous. It was a great three-day run. They did everything we asked and they gave us everything they had.”
Ending on a losing note hurts, but the future for UNO basketball has only scratched the surface.