Right after UNO freshman Darrius Hughes was fouled on a layup attempt in transition early in Monday night’s game, he heard a quick, tone-setting reminder from his veteran point guard.
Dunk it next time.
Ayo Akinwole passed along that message to Hughes, who immediately then thought about a central theme within the Mavs’ game plan for this matchup against a scrappy and lively Southern squad.
They wanted to take the fight right to the Jaguars.
So the next time Hughes had space in transition, the explosive 6-foot-7 rookie wing rose above everyone and rocked the hoop with a powerful slam. And when a Southern dribbler navigated into the lane, Hughes and his teammates swarmed to the ball. And when they had an open driving lane to the rim, they attacked it.
Their assertive attitude proved to be the difference Monday as UNO cruised to a 78-51 victory over Southern (2-4) inside Baxter Arena.
“The team mentality was, ‘Let’s go out here and guard the ball,’ ” Hughes said. “We’re not backing down from anybody. We’re trying to be tough. We’re trying to hold our ground.”
The players instilled that approach in practice over the weekend.
The Mavs (4-3) returned home after Thursday’s 85-77 victory at Washington State — their first win against a Pac-12 team in program history. But they weren’t content after the milestone moment. Instead of relishing the success, they took the floor with heightened urgency.
Said Akinwole: “Energy was high. Everybody was locked in.”
It carried over to Monday night.
The Mavs held Southern to 31.7% shooting. They forced 18 turnovers. The stops on defense led to several high-percentage looks on offense — eight points during an 11-0 run midway through the first half came in fastbreak situations.
The Mavs did surrender 16 second-chance opportunities to a team that came in ranked 37th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (35.2%), according to Ken Pomeroy’s data.
But the Mavs were just as active on the glass on their own end — junior forward Matt Pile and Hughes combined for nine offensive boards, helping their squad finish with a 14-11 advantage in second-chance points.
“I just thought our guys competed,” coach Derrin Hansen said.
That seemed evident all night, whether it was Hughes rising for dunks in traffic (he ended up with three) or sophomore guard Zach Thornhill flying at the rim for rebounds or senior guard KJ Robinson flashing into passing lanes and picking up steals.
UNO built a 14-point halftime lead, then quickly extended it to 53-33 seven minutes into the second half. The Mavs led by as many as 30 points Monday against a Southern team that had pushed Nebraska to overtime just three days earlier.
“Our coaches definitely gave us a great scout on these guys,” Akinwole said. “We knew everything those guys were going to do, and we came out ready to play.”
The Mavs will be back in action Tuesday when they host Loyola-Maryland at 7 p.m.