It has been five years since my favorite moment of Omaha Mavericks Athletics has happened. Five years, it feels like yesterday almost. On February 14th, 2019 Omaha Men’s Basketball took on South Dakota State which was a showdown for the ages. Both teams were battling for first place in the Summit League and Omaha had a very crazy season and was their best season in the DI era. How we got to this point in the 2018-2019 season for Omaha was a rollercoaster.
The Season Build Up
Before the season even started, Omaha was picked 7th out of 9th in the Summit League and played like it by getting blown out by Minnesota, struggling in the first half against DIII Buena Vista, and losing to Northern Arizona at home. Things slowly changed when they lost a close game in Boulder against Colorado. At one point during non conference play, Omaha went on a very long road trip touring the west coast of the U.S., playing teams such as Iowa State, Arizona State, Oregon, Seattle, and Idaho. After Omaha won against Idaho, their season turned around a ton and I felt it especially when Omaha defeated UC Santa Barbara at home then blew out Rice in Houston.
Conference play started with Omaha beating Denver but losing to Oral Roberts. When Omaha played North Dakota this is when the clutch shots by Mitch Han came into effect and won a ton of close games. Omaha won games at Purdue Fort Wayne and at South Dakota in overtime by single digits. This included a deep three in the 107-102 overtime game against South Dakota where Omaha was up a ton only for South Dakota to come storming back. This season also included wild comebacks and near comebacks making games exciting to watch especially the ending of games across the Summit League. Omaha did lose to South Dakota State in Brookings by 10 but a huge revenge game was coming in Omaha on February 14th.
South Dakota State on the other hand was picked to win the Summit League and had won the Summit League postseason for two consecutive years. They had Summit League player of the year (multiple times) and Kimball, Nebraska native Mike Daum (The Dauminator), David Jenkins Jr., and up incoming player Matt Dentlinger who would give Omaha fits in future seasons and played six season with South Dakota State.
I was just a freshman in college at the time and followed all the major sports UNO had and was involved with UNO Maverick Maniacs and UNO Pep Band. I was supposed to be in pep band that night due to a possible halftime performance, but plans fell through and was not assigned to that game but went as a member of the UNO Maverick Maniacs. It was also the debut of the net hats and rally towels UNO students wore and waved around during men’s and women’s basketball games. This game was also being promoted very heavily by the UNO Office of Spirit and Tradition due to how huge this game was.
Before the game, it felt like a hockey atmosphere outside Baxter Arena due to the huge crowd anticipated. The student section was far away from the hoop prior to this game, but it got moved courtside in addition to section 110 so students can be closer to the action and have a better gameday atmosphere. Attendance at the time was a record crowd of 4,228 people. If Omaha won the game regardless of score, the plan was for the student to storm the court.
The Game Itself
The game started out slow for the Mavs as they found themselves down 13 at the half and down 16 to start the second half. Jenkins Jr and Mike Daum were too much at first for Omaha to defend and Omaha could not shoot the ball at all in the first half. During the second half, guys such as Zach Jackson, Mitch Hahn, KJ Robinson, and Dr. Matt Pile got going. Matt Pile went around the rim laying up baskets and dunking on South Dakota State while Hahn, Jackson, and Robinson got going from shooting three pointers. Omaha then took the lead over South Dakota State. After a back and forth final 10 minutes, Omaha committed a foul up 1 putting South Dakota State’s Mike Daum to the free throw like with less than 10 seconds to go in the game. Mike Daum made both free throws putting South Dakota State up 1. It was clutch time for Omaha and Mitch Hahn shot an off balance jump shot and made the basket as the horn sounded!!!
I did not know what to do since all buzzer beaters are reviewed and did not get permission from athletics yet to storm the court. The refs reviewed the play and put .2 seconds on the clock and I got into position to storm the court. When the horn sounded the second time I was standing right next to former UNO Athletic Director and now current UNL Athletic Director Trev Alberts and got the okay to storm the court. It was a mob scene and center court as the UNO students celebrated this historic win with the players. The Mitch Hahn buzzer beater also was the #2 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 that night. This game was also televised on Midco Sports Network in North and South Dakota and on Yurview Cox Channel 13 in Omaha.
The final score of the game was 85-84 Omaha and Mitch Hahn led the Mavs with 22 points. Matt Pile, Zach Jackson, and KJ Robinson each had 17 points, JT Gibson had 7 points, and Ayo Akinwole had 5 points. Wanjang Tut had 3 rebounds for Omaha and Brett Barney played for 5 minutes.
After this game, it was a very strong finish for both teams and Omaha and South Dakota State were playing in close tight games. South Dakota State bad a buzzer beater of its own from half court against North Dakota State by Jenkins Jr and came back against South Dakota while Omaha survived against Purdue Fort Wayne and came back against North Dakota State. Omaha would end up losing a game against Oral Roberts in a close one but was still in contention for Summit League Regular Season. Omaha would beat Denver but South Dakota state defeated Western Illinois earning South Dakota State the Summit League Regular Season Title and the automatic postseason birth to the NIT if they did not win the Summit League Tournament. Omaha Mavericks head coach at the time Derrin Hansen won Summit League Coach of the Year due to Omaha finishing in second place instead of seventh place as predicted before the season started. South Dakota State had to play Western Illinois for the second time in less than a week and was the first ever 1 seed to lose to an 8 seed. Omaha would beat 7 seed North Dakota and survived against 3 seed Purdue Fort Wayne to earn their second trip to the Summit League Championship Game. Omaha however lost to 4 seed North Dakota State in the championship game 73-63 ending their historic season.