Kenneth Pancake; Staff Writer
It was hyped as the biggest game of the season for Omaha. And it did not disappoint.
On Thursday night, the Omaha men’s basketball team came back from a 16-point deficit against South Dakota State to win a thriller in front of a record crowd at Baxter Arena.
It all began with the crowd. 4,228 were in attendance – a Baxter Arena basketball record.
“I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that here at Baxter,” said guard Zach Jackson after the game.
“The UNO community and our Omaha community came out to support our athletic department and our program tonight,” said Head Coach Derrin Hansen. “Great crowd.”
Relative to the finish, the first half was calm. South Dakota State dominated the floor on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball. And in Brookings, they spell it “Dauminated.” The Jackrabbits led by 13 at the half. Additionally, the second half began with a three from David Jenkins (one of ten different treys for Jenkins). That put the Mavericks down by 16.
Then, magic happened. Omaha went on a 21-3 run, and they found themselves leading by two with less than 14 minutes remaining. That was the first of 13 lead changes. “Some people call it a heavyweight fight,” Hansen said after the game.
A back-and-forth effort ensued. Omaha led by five with 2:40 to go. SDSU’s Jenkins hit two threes to give the Jackrabbits a one-point lead. With a minute remaining, Omaha’s KJ Robinson hit a jumper to take the lead back by the same margin.
A foul was called on the other side of the floor, and with 5.7 seconds left on the clock, Mike Daum hit two free throws to take the lead in the game, by a score of 84-83.
It was time for a miracle. And nobody knows miracles like Mitch Hahn.
“What I was thinking about was like, okay, I want to shoot a pull-up three,” said Hahn after the game. “That’s what I first thought. And then Matt was like, you need to get to the rim.”
Hahn mentioned that his mind went back to that conference championship loss against the Jackrabbits two years ago. “Against South Dakota State in the (2017 Summit League) championship, we shot a deep three and it just didn’t go… we can’t do the same thing twice.”
“I thought he was going to pull from the wing,” said Hansen. Instead, Hahn took the baseline inbounds pass, dribbled down the side of the court, met opposition on the other baseline and attempted a fade away shot.
“These are the type of games we pray about, you know, game-winning shots,” Hahn said.
Although the shot was technically not a buzzer-beater, it left only two-tenths of a second on the clock. South Dakota State failed to inbound the ball on their possesion, and Omaha won by a score of 85-84.
“Thank you, God, for letting me play with Mitch Hahn!” said Jackson after the game.
Replays of the shot were retweeted everywhere immediately following the game – including the official NCAA March Madness account on Twitter. The play was even number two on Sport’s Center’s Top 10 Plays of Thursday night.
“He’s one of our best players,” Hansen said after the game. In a situation like that, Hansen knew that “…you put the ball in the hands of your best players.”
Now, the team prepares to face Purdue Fort Wayne on Saturday. The Mastodons currently sit in third place in the conference, while the Mavericks are a half of a game out of first place.
“I think that it’s easier… because we have a home game next,” said Hahn of the quick turnaround.
“Our locker room will be fun (on Friday morning),” said Hansen. “And then when I walk in the room, they’ll turn and look, and we’ll go to the screen, and we’ll move forward.”
Omaha is now 15-9 on the year and 9-2 in the Summit League with a chance to tie for the lead on Saturday against Purdue Fort Wayne. The game can be heard on 1180 Zone 2.