MEN'S BASKETBALL: UNO AT SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
7 p.m. Thursday • Frost Arena, Brookings, South Dakota • 1180 AM
Just three weeks ago, UNO halted one of the nation's longest home winning streaks when it snapped North Dakota State's string of consecutive victories in Fargo, North Dakota, at 31 with a 91-82 road win.
Now, the Mavericks (14-7) take a crack at another.
South Dakota State (16-5) has won 26 straight at Frost Arena. The preseason Summit League favorite takes the nation's sixth-longest home winning streak into Thursday's game with the conference leaders.
UNO, picked to finish seventh, is 6-1 in the Summit League and holds a one-game lead over IPFW, IUPUI and the Jackrabbits. The Mavs climbed to the top of the standings behind a 4-0 conference road record.
"We like playing on the road," guard Devin Patterson said. "We always feel good on the road. We've been coming out of the gate with some pep to our step, more so than at home. Then it's just executing."
UNO's current three-game road swing included consecutive games in a place it had never won (Denver), against the league's preseason player of the year (Obi Emegano of Oral Roberts) and at a place few come away victorious (South Dakota State). It has already walked away a winner in its first two outings.
"Going into it, objectively, you'd kill to get two of the three. And you'd have probably taken one of the three and said, 'That's OK. We're all right with that,'" Mavs coach Derrin Hansen said. "Now, we've got two of the three. We have a little momentum. Hopefully, we can continue that in what always has been and will be a tough environment on Thursday — the toughest environment we've been in to this point."
South Dakota State is 7-0 at home this season. Its lineup features three guards-George Marshall, Deondre Parks and Jake Bittle — selected to the preseason Summit League all-conference first team.
UNO guard Tra-Deon Hollins said finishing off an unbeaten road swing there would be quite a feat.
"They've got guards that they predicted to be first-team all-conference, and we just got a win over Obi and (at) Denver," he said. "Yeah, that's big-time. If we can complete it, that's impressive in my book."
The Jackrabbits' top three guards combine for 42 points per game on average. But two of them will be guarded by two of the most disruptive players in the league — Patterson and Hollins. Neither received preseason Summit honors, but Patterson may be its midseason MVP and Hollins its top newcomer.
The Mavs backcourt is looking forward to the challenge.
"Devin is somebody that I know is going to come with a lot of intensity. He brings a lot of passion to the game, and I feed off him," Hollins said. "Defensively, they're going to have some trouble. They can score the ball like no other, so it's going to be a good matchup. I love it because we're the underdogs."
Player for player, that may the case. In the team race, however, UNO has gone from hunter to hunted. Now that the Mavs are on top of the Summit League standings, they won't be sneaking up on anyone.
"Everybody's going to give you their best game every night," Patterson said. "We're not used to it, but we like it. ... I feel good, but I'm not really comfortable right now. I want that two-game lead."
Thursday's gamemarks the halfway point of the league season for UNO. And no matter the outcome, the Mavs are guaranteed to come out of it in no worse than a tie for first place in the league standings.
Hollins would prefer to stay atop the conference alone.
"It would be big," he said. "I don't know how everybody else feels, but I don't want to share with them. South Dakota State is a very good basketball team, but I feel that we're better. If we stick to the coaching plan, then we can come out on top and not have to share with them."
Hansen said the Jackrabbits are deep and efficient. In addition to their three guards, they start two sophomore forwards. And redshirt freshman forward Mike Daum, a Kimball graduate, was the conference's player of the week after averaging 19 points and nine rebounds in two road wins.
"Can we be as good as them, one through five, on the road and with our bench?" Hansen said. "That's what it's going to come down to."