UNO’s players knew exactly what the locker-room message was going to be.
The game’s momentum had flipped late in the first half largely because they’d offered little resistance against Oral Roberts’ bullish bigs, who bulldozed their way to 20 second-chance points. ORU grabbed an offensive board on seven of its nine misses during a 19-5 surge before the break.
So when the Mavs plotted out a possible path back from an eight-point halftime deficit against a program that’s had their number lately, there wasn’t much debate over what adjustments were needed.
They had to rebound, yes. But more than that. It was about hunting bodies, embracing contact and confidently rising up to secure the board — because their mettle would be tested every time a shot went up.
UNO (9-8, 2-0 Summit League) did indeed make the necessary changes in a 74-67 win over Oral Roberts at Baxter Arena on Saturday. The victory extended its home winning streak to 14 straight games.
“We did a better job of being more firm with them and just bringing more energy,” sophomore Marlon Ruffin said. “Just playing with heart. That’s our big thing.”
The Mavs spent the preseason trying to ensure that aspect of the game would be a strength.
Junior Matt Pile can gobble up boards, sure. But they wanted rebounding to be a team-wide responsibility — especially against Oral Roberts (7-8, 0-2), which had won four in a row against UNO.
The Golden Eagles don’t make it easy, though. They start two agile 6-foot-8 forwards who are difficult to box out. And they’ll sub in a sturdy 275-pound rebound-hunter off the bench. Coming in, they ranked ninth in the country in offensive boards per game.
“When the ball goes up against Oral Roberts ... that’s when the war begins with them,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “They will beat you up. They’ll go get it. And they don’t care how they get it. They’re good at that.”
They had their way early on.
But the Mavs held ORU to just four second-chance points after the break. The Golden Eagles picked up 17 offensive boards during the game’s first 25 minutes — but just two in the final 15.
“I thought we did a better job of getting bodies on bodies,” Hansen said.
UNO soon worked its way back in front as a result.
The Mavs took their first second-half lead at the 8:41 mark when Ruffin, who scored 15 points, knocked down a 3-pointer to put his team in front 58-57. His two free throws a few moments later extended the advantage to 66-59.
Oral Roberts did trim its deficit to 68-67 with three minutes left. But on the Golden Eagles’ next three offensive trips, Pile single-handedly stonewalled their late comeback effort. He stole a pass, blocked a shot and drew a charge.
Senior KJ Robinson finished off a clock-draining possession with a layup to give UNO a 72-67 lead with 15 seconds left. And to the delight of the 2,251 home fans, sophomore Zach Thornhill capped the strong second half — the Mavs shot 60.7% after the break — with a two-handed dunk as the final buzzer sounded.
“We take every game like it’s our last,” said sophomore Wanjang Tut, who led UNO with 17 points. “We play to our fullest, and trust in our teammates and coaches.”
After the first week of league play, the Mavs remain in a two-way tie for first place with North Dakota State (10-5, 2-0) in the Summit League standings. UNO’s next three games are on the road.
Oral Roberts..... 41 26—67
At UNO............ 33 41—74
A — 2,251. Officials — Jourdan Love, Lewis Garrison, Greg Langsdorf.