Men’s basketball gaining steam ahead of conference tournament

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Photo courtesy OMavs
After losing three straight, Omaha has now won two in a row.

Kenneth Pancake
CONTRIBUTOR

As the calendar draws closer to March, the tournament team is waking inside the Mavericks. With big wins against Western Illinois and Fort Wayne at home, Omaha finds itself 4 and 6 in Summit League play.

The Mavs are now fifth in the conference, and one win out of third place.

Western Illinois

 On Thursday evening, Omaha took another close game right down to the end, defeating the Western Illinois Leathernecks by a score of 71 to 68.

“I’m really happy for our guys,” said Coach Derrin Hansen, who said that perhaps they had started slow, but had improved their energy as the game went on. “Plus 10 on the glass, which was big.”

Zach Jackson had another stellar performance, putting up a team-leading 25 points. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” mentioned Hansen. Jackson added five rebounds, an assist and a block, along with four treys. Matt Pile led the team in nine rebounds, and KJ Robinson – “Tonight we saw him get back into an offensive flow” – scored 18, with three assists, two rebounds and a steal. In addition, JT Gibson shot 60 percent from behind the arc, going 3 for 5.

The stark difference between this win and the last against the Leathernecks? The shooting: on the Jan. 11 matchup, WIU shot only 39 percent from the field and only 10 percent from beyond the arc during the first half. This time, it was 52 percent and 50 percent, respectively. “I don’t think they did anything different,” Hansen mentioned. “Three of those were really contested, but they made them.”

Lamar Wofford-Humphrey sat on the sidelines with crutches. He is expected to return to the court in a week.

Fort Wayne

Mitch Hahn led a spectacular comeback with one of his own, in front of the largest men’s basketball crowd in Baxter Arena (4,106), to defeat the Fort Wayne Mastodons by a score of 90-85.

“We’ve had a bug of starting slow, but we’ve been coming back,” stated Hahn after the game. “It’s not hard to come back when you’re not thinking about it too much, and you’re confident in your teammates.” Hahn scored a team-leading 21 points, adding six rebounds and three assists as the night went on. Daniel Norl and Jackson followed with 19 and 16 points respectively.

Nearly halfway through the first half, Fort Wayne had built a 14-point lead, only to have it reduced to four before the half. Omaha found themselves trailing by 5 with four minutes to play, but responded with a tremendous 16-2 run.

The Mavs improved tremendously from the free-throw line, shooting nearly 73 percent from the charity stripe, and scoring 24 points from there alone. As a team, Omaha worked the boards, garnering 38 rebounds to the Mastodons’ 33.

Jackson and Daniel Meyer led the team in rebounds with seven, while Norl added five and Matt Pile added four. Jackson would also garner four assists and two blocks, while Ayo Akinwole would earn three assists.

“It’s about our team, and it’s about our whole season,” said Hansen. “We grew a lot these last week and a half or two, getting a body or two back, switching up a few things… I’m excited, but the rest of February holds for our team.”

The Mavericks have four games to go, facing Denver next in Colorado on Feb. 14. The game will be on 1620 The Zone at 9 p.m. central time. The Summit League tournament is slated to begin on March 3, with a bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.

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