UNO didn’t win its game at Oregon on Dec. 8, but it was competitive in the second half.
Coach Derrin Hansen said his team left the court confident that day. It hasn’t lost a road game since.
“You could sense our guys starting to come around a little bit,” he said.
The Mavericks (12-8) returned to the Northwest one week later and beat Idaho. That was the start of the five-game road winning streak that UNO takes into Saturday’s game with South Dakota State (16-6).
UNO, picked to finish eighth in the Summit League poll, meets the preseason favorite Jackrabbits with the outright conference lead on the line. Both teams are 6-1 in the first half of conference play.
The Mavs weren’t expected to be in the hunt at the midway point but have pieced together five straight conference wins by not overlooking any opponent and playing well at the end of games.
UNO rallied from 17 points down at Purdue Fort Wayne on Thursday to remain in a tie for first. The Mavs traded shots with the Mastodons down the stretch and in overtime to pull out an 85-79 win.
Senior captains Zach Jackson and Mitch Hahn led the way. But starters JT Gibson, Matt Pile and KJ Robinson all joined Jackson in hitting shots that either tied the game or put UNO ahead near the end.
Jackson predicted earlier this week that it would take such an effort to win at Fort Wayne and SDSU.
“We’ve got to come at them more by committee,” the senior guard said. “It’s not going to be one player on our team to beat them. We’re going to have to have a collective effort to go out there and beat them defensively. Just all being locked in is going to be what it takes to win these two games.”
The Mavs survived a rough one in Fort Wayne. Now they’ll have a tougher one in Brookings.
South Dakota State is 8-1 at Frost Arena this season and rarely loses at home. And it has the league’s best player.
Kimball, Nebraska, product Mike Daum is on pace to become the Summit’s player of the year for the third consecutive time. He’s rising on the all-time NCAA scoring list, too, with 2,770 career points.
The 6-foot-9 Daum has scored 27 or more points in his past five games against UNO, averaging 32 points and 12 rebounds in those contests. He is 5-2 against the Mavs, averaging 28 points a game.
Pile, a sophomore, should draw the assignment of guarding Daum, at least to start the day.
“Mike Daum is a great player. He’s probably going to the NBA,” he said. “That’s a big challenge. You also have some players around him that can make plays and shots, and they play very well as a team. I’ve only played them two times, but they’re a tough matchup. And we’re going to have to be locked in.”
The Jackrabbits have a pair of other big scorers in sophomore David Jenkins and senior Skyler Flatten. Jenkins is second in the league in scoring, behind Daum, while Flatten is eighth.
All five UNO starters average in double figures, and that’s a big reason it has won nine of its past 10 games. The Mavs have won as many times since that game in Oregon as they did all of last season.
“It’s definitely very exciting,” Pile said. “Playing for first is, obviously, more fun than last year. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time — (play) our style of basketball and do what we do best.”
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