DENVER — UNO successfully bounced back from its disappointing loss at Oral Roberts on Thursday to finish off its best Division I season to date with an 86-76 win over Denver at Magness Arena Saturday.
The Mavericks (19-10) established a new program mark for victories in a D-I campaign in their regular-season finale and capped their conference run at 13-3, their best record in the Summit to date.
They didn’t, however, get the help they needed elsewhere on Saturday to secure a share of the league title and the No. 1 seed for the upcoming Summit League tournament. South Dakota State posted an 86-66 home win over eighth-place Western Illinois to finish a game ahead of the Mavs in the final standings.
UNO, therefore, will head to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as the No. 2 seed. The Mavs will open the tournament by facing North Dakota in an 8:30 p.m. quarterfinal next Saturday at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
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“This team will refocus,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “There’s no guaranteed success in one-and-done leagues. But we’re going to give it everything we have up there. That’s all I can tell Maverick fans.”
JT Gibson led four Mavs in double figures with 22 points as UNO capped a league season that started with a win over Denver with another victory over the Pioneers. Matt Pile finished with 19 points and Mitch Hahn added 18 as the Mavs eliminated last-place Denver from contention for the Summit tourney.
Hansen said on his postgame radio show that his team came out with a good frame of mind after a loss.
“I’ve got to give our guys credit because it was a tough locker room Thursday night,” he said. “They knew that (the conference championship) was not in their hands any more, and that’s hard to take. But that’s on us. ... We just didn’t do a good enough job down there. We had a chance to finish one and we didn’t.”
The Mavs closed the show Saturday after having their 18-point second-half advantage cut to five. A three-point play by Zach Jackson ended a 15-2 Denver surge and started a retaliatory one. Gibson hit his fifth 3-pointer during a burst that saw UNO build its cushion back up to 17 points with 6:35 left to play.
UNO used an 11-0 run, which included 3-pointers by Hahn and Jackson and a three-point play from Wanjang Tut, to claim a 42-35 halftime advantage. The Mavs hit six of their first nine long-range shots and shot 53 percent from the field before the break. Jackson led the way with 10 first-half points.
That margin grew to 18 as UNO, behind the play of Pile, outscored Denver 16-5 in the first 5:28 after intermission. Gibson’s fast-break basket, following a blocked shot by Hahn, made it 58-40 with 14:32 left.
The Pioneers (8-22) responded with a 15-2 run to rally to within 60-55 on a 3-pointer by Joe Rosga. The Mavericks pulled away again afterward, then held on to secure a season sweep of the series with Denver.
David Nzekwesi paced Denver with 15 points. Creighton transfer Ronnie Harrell added 13 in his last game.
UNO opened its season by going 3-7 over its first 10 games, five of which came against high-major opponents. The Mavs went 16-3 from that point on and have won 12 of 14 since the start of 2019.
“When we got to the conference part of the year, we had already found our groove a little bit,” Hansen said. “I know we lost the one early to Oral Roberts, but then we got on a little bit of a run.”