Leathernecks will test Mavs’ ‘D’

Western Illinois’ Terell Parks is averaging 13.6 points and a conference-leading 9.3 rebounds per game this season. Parks was the Summit League player of the month for December.

If the past four games are any indication, UNO has figured things out on the offensive end of the floor.

While going 2-2 with home wins against Missouri-Kansas City and IUPUI, the Mavericks have shot 53.7 percent from the field while averaging 81.0 points.

“I think we can score just about any time we want to, it’s just defense that we need to worry about,” point guard CJ Carter said. “Anyone on the floor can score over 20, we just need to lock it down on defense.”

Speaking of locking things down on defense, along comes Western Illinois for an 11:30 a.m. game Saturday at Ralston Arena.

The Leathernecks, who are ranked No. 22 in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll, entered the week third in the country in scoring defense at 51.1 points per game and — proving it isn’t just a modest pace that leads to their defensive prowess — they were also in the national top 30 in field goal percentage defense.

“They make you take shots where you don’t want to take them from,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said. “They’re more physical than what you think they are. They’re very smart and very sound in what they do.”

After a slow start to the season, Western Illinois brings an 10-game winning streak into the matchup with the Mavs. WIU is 13-3 overall and is tied for the Summit League lead at 5-0.

Center Terell Parks and all-around guard Ceola Clark are the headliners on a balanced team that has a modest RPI of 165 because of a schedule ranked 345th.

Parks, a 6-foot-8 senior, averaged a double-double to earn Summit League player of the month for December. For the season, he averages 13.6 points while leading the league in rebounds (9.3) and blocked shots (2.9).

Clark, another All-Summit candidate, averages 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals and is among the league’s best in 3-point percentage (.443, sixth) and free-throw percentage (.839, fourth).

Jack Houpt, a 6-7 forward with shooting range, is Western’s version of UNO’s Alex Welhouse, averaging 7.2 points and 3.8 rebounds while hitting 43.1 percent from 3-point range.

Adam Link, a 6-6 forward, is one of the league’s top newcomers while averaging 9.6 points.

And the Leathernecks got hot once guard Remy Roberts-Burnett returned after missing the first eight games of the season with an injury.

Western Illinois is deliberate, but efficient, on offense, averaging a league-low 61.1 points per game but shooting a solid 47.1 percent.

“They know who is getting shots and where they are getting them from,” Hansen said. “They’ve all bought in to exactly what they’re doing.”

UNO is coming off a 90-79 win Thursday against IUPUI in which it shot 62.3 percent from the field — including 72.7 percent in the second half. Still, the game wasn’t decided until the final minute.

“We went about six to seven minutes in the second half when we were trading baskets and the lead was about eight to 12 points,” Hansen said. “If we could have dug in there defensively and gotten a stop or two, it could have gotten to 15 or 16 points and maybe it doesn’t go down to the wire.”

Despite having two league wins in seven tries, the Mavs are in sixth place in the nine-team Summit. Three teams have one league win.

Thursday’s win vaulted them three spots in the standings.

“If you’re going to go in a certain direction, I guess that’s the direction to go,” Hansen said.

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