As Mavs battle for Summit League lead, senior Zach Jackson finishing in style

Zach Jackson is 42 points from becoming the second player in UNO history with 1,500 career points and 500 rebounds. The first was Dennis Forrest, who played in the 1970s.

Not so long ago, a young freshman named Zach Jackson scored the first men’s basket at Baxter Arena.

UNO’s senior co-captain, a reigning Summit League co-player of the week, admitted Tuesday that as a first-year player — one barely 18 years old — he was just trying to find his place in his new world.

“I was just wide-eyed, trying to get adjusted to everything,” he said. “I had seen more athletic guys than I had ever seen in my life. It was the first time I had not been the most athletic person on the court.”

Jackson held his own that season and caught up quickly after that. As he enters his final home game at the venue he helped break in, he’s one of the top players in the Summit and one of the best ever at UNO.

The 6-foot-5 guard from Wichita, Kansas, a four-year starter, enters Wednesday’s home finale against Western Illinois ranked sixth on the all-time Maverick scoring list with 1,458 career points. He’s 42 points shy of becoming the first UNO player in more than four decades with 1,500 points and 500 rebounds. Dennis Forrest, who played Division II basketball for the Mavs from 1973-77, is the only previous one to do so.

Any talk of achievements or accolades is secondary to Jackson right now. With UNO in a regular-season conference championship chase, he hasn’t even thought much about his home finale.

“I’m just really focused on the season that we’re having right now,” he said. “I’ll have plenty of time to reflect on all that. I know we’ve got a big game every game from now on, so I’m just focused on that.”

The Mavs (16-9, 10-2) are coming off a pair of big ones last week. They edged league-leading South Dakota State and third-place Purdue Fort Wayne in consecutive games in front of larger-than-usual home crowds at Baxter to remain a half-game out of the top spot in the Summit with four games to play.

UNO coach Derrin Hansen expressed appreciation Tuesday for the support his team received from the Omaha community last week. Jackson, too, was impressed by the backing the Mavs got at Baxter Arena.

“The past couple of games have been just a great experience, to have all those people behind our guys and knowing how big those games were for us,” he said. “It was really good to come out with those wins and be able to represent our team. Being in the position that we are this year just means everything.”

UNO, which finishes the regular season with games at North Dakota State, Oral Roberts and Denver, can pull into a first-place tie with South Dakota State, at least until late Thursday, with a victory Wednesday over the Leathernecks (8-17, 3-9), who have lost four in a row. The Mavs would be in first alone already had SDSU not hit a half-court shot at the buzzer Saturday to win at North Dakota State.

The UNO players found out about that result shortly after their win over the Mastodons.

“I don’t think it really changes much,” Jackson said. “We still control our own destiny. We know if we come in and take care of business every game from here on out, starting (Wednesday), we’ll be right where we want to be at the end. We’ve just got to come in focused every day these next four games.”

The Mavs have followed the businesslike approach of Jackson and senior captain Mitch Hahn throughout their conference run. Hansen said his senior guard has become a true leader.

“He’s grown so much,” Hansen said. “He’s grown with our fan base. He’s grown with this building. He’s grown with the environment around him here. He’s grown on us. We loved him when he came in, but we love him more now. He’s just done so much for our program.

“We wouldn’t be here without the guys before him, but we wouldn’t be sitting here today doing what we’re doing without him having done what he’s done. We’re thankful Zach Jackson wanted to be a Maverick. He’s been tremendous every minute and every step of the way.”

Jackson saved some of his best for the second half of Saturday’s win over Fort Wayne. He drained four consecutive 3-pointers during a key run while notching 24 of his 27 points after the break.

But, true to his nature, the senior isn’t dwelling on the performance. He’s looking ahead to what’s next.

“I haven’t thought about it much. I try to put the games in the past as much as I can going into the next game,” he said. “It was special. I haven’t really played like that, really ever in my life. That was a special moment for me, but I just try to do my best to focus on the next game.”

Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates

Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.