UNO’s Ayo Akinwole didn’t realize how close he was to one of the sport’s top statistical milestones until after Thursday’s game had ended.
Turns out, all he needed was a rebound, and he would have been the first modern-day Mavs player to record a triple-double.
Maybe that’s what assistant Tyler Bullock was hollering Akinwole’s way in the latter stages of a 72-53 win against NAIA Division II Midland. Akinwole never heard the exact message. The 6-foot point guard simply nodded and jumped back into the action.
A fan seated in the Baxter Arena stands shouted at Akinwole — “Get a rebound!” — as the game clock ticked under one minute remaining, but the hundreds of kids buzzing on UNO’s community engagement day drowned him out.
The numbers suggested that the Papillion La-Vista product did everything else right, though.
Akinwole finished a perfect 8 of 8 from the floor to finish with 17 points. His 10 assists were a career high. He matched his personal best with nine rebounds. He hounded ball-handlers on one end and orchestrated UNO’s offensive attack on the other — essentially controlling the flow of the game throughout.
Oh, and he didn’t commit a turnover in 37 minutes.
“He was our rock that we kind of leaned on (Thursday),” coach Derrin Hansen said.
Hansen thought the Mavs looked a little rushed, particularly early on — forcing early jump shots or trying to thread passes through gaps that weren’t there. The players indicated that better off-ball movement and improved floor spacing will help with that down the road.
But a motivated Midland squad — seven of the 11 guys who played Thursday are in-state products — didn’t make it easy on UNO.
It was an exhibition game for the Warriors, yet they finished even on the glass. They earned a few hustle steals. They pulled within 22-19 at the 5:11 mark in the first half on a 3-pointer by Ryan Williams, a 6-foot-8 Fremont graduate who scored 16 points.
“We really competed, we really battled,” fifth-year Midland coach Oliver Drake said.
But the Mavs used an 8-2 spurt to go ahead 30-21 at halftime. They scored the first eight points of the second half — they made nine of their first 12 shots after the break and extended the lead to 49-32.
Akinwole’s fingerprints were all over that defining stretch.
He found senior JT Gibson for a 3-pointer just eight seconds before the halftime buzzer. Then he opened up the second half by nailing a 3-pointer and converting a fast-break layup. He drove into the lane and created a bucket for Wanjang Tut. Then he twice dished to big man Matt Pile for layups.
It appears to be the type of playmaking that UNO’s going to need from Akinwole, especially at this point in the year.
Senior KJ Robinson is currently suspended for a violation of team rules. The Mavs are still waiting on an NCAA ruling on an immediate eligibility waiver for UMKC transfer Marco Smith.
Newcomers Darrius Hughes and Marlon Ruffin are adjusting. Tut and Zach Thornhill, two sophomores, are learning.
“It’s not about perfection, it’s about our direction,” Hansen said he told the team.
That’s why Akinwole was smiling afterward.
He didn’t take the floor Thursday with the goal of recording a triple-double. He and his teammates, who lost 68-54 at Wichita State in their regular-season opener Tuesday, just wanted to take a step forward with a win in their first home game.
“We got the ‘dub’ and we all played great,” Akinwole said. “So (individual stats) don’t really matter at the end of the day.”
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