Mavericks ride first conference win into the break

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Mitchell Cutcher
CONTRIBUTOR

Freshman Frankie Fidler set a career high with 19 points in the win over Western Illinois. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

It had been 43 days since the Omaha men’s basketball team had last won a basketball game, but the Mavericks ended that streak with an 84-78 win over Western Illinois to head into the Christmas break. After a month of struggles, the Mavericks were finally able to take a lead into the half, protect it and hold on for a win.

With Summit League play just starting up, the Mavericks found themselves working with a blank canvas last week. Omaha took that blank canvas and turned it into a 1-1 start in conference play. For members of what is known as a ‘one-bid’ league, conference games matter that much more. The win was also a special one for Omaha head coach Derrin Hansen, as it was the 250th of his career.

The win over the Leathernecks actually started in the Mavericks’ previous game at Saint Thomas. The Mavericks found themselves down 46-23 at the half, and instead of packing it in and accepting a loss, they fought back in the second half. Omaha outscored Saint Thomas 50-34 in the second half, but that was not enough to overcome the early deficit, dropping the conference opener, 80-73.

The Mavericks caught fire from deep in that loss, as they shot a combined 66.7% from behind the three-point line. The charge in the second half was led by Felix Lemetti and Frankie Fidler, as the pair finished a combined 8-13 from deep against the Tommies.

​Against Western Illinois, the difference came at the free-throw line, as the Mavericks were practically able to live from there. Lemetti and Fidler shot a combined 20 free throws and Fidler was a perfect 10-for-10 from the line. Omaha made 23 of their 27 attempts from the free-throw line as a team, the most attempts by Omaha since their Dec. 4 loss against Eastern Washington. The Mavericks handed Western Illinois their first loss since Nov 24. when they fell against Eastern Michigan.

​Lemetti and Fidler have now led the Omaha offense in back-to-back games and have started to find a rhythm. In his first two games of Summit League play, Fidler has set consecutive career-highs in points with 18 at Saint Thomas, followed by 19 against Western Illinois. Lemetti hit the 20-point mark against the Leathernecks for the second time this year, as he put up 22 in the win.

The win over the Leathernecks also featured some major changes to the Omaha starting lineup. For the first time this season, neither Darrius Hughes nor Devin Evans were in the starting lineup. Instead, Hansen sent out a starting five of Lemetti, Fidler, Marco Smith, Dylan Brougham and Akol Arop.

​Omaha (2-11, 1-1) initially was set to have an eight-day break before traveling to UMKC on Dec. 30. However, that game was canceled Tuesday afternoon due to COVID-19 concerns within the UMKC program. The Mavericks will now look to build off the win as they ring in the new year on Jan. 1 at Oral Roberts, the defending Summit League Tournament champions. After that, it’s back home for a three-game home-stand, starting against North Dakota on Jan. 6.

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