Leading Iowa for most of the game and pushing UNLV to the finish is all very nice, but UNO coach Derrin Hansen is hoping his team will be focused on the here and now Tuesday night against South Carolina State.
“We’d really like to play well, because we play them two of the next three games,” Hansen said. “And we’re at home, and you like to play well when you’re at home.”
The Mavericks (2-2) lost by a combined 11 points on the road against the two NCAA tournament contenders they’ve played thus far. Wins over Northern Illinois and Missouri-Kansas City have also been part of a solid start to the season.
“The four games we’ve played, we’ve played with confidence and played hard from the onset,” Hansen said. “Hopefully that pattern continues and that it’s not a coincidence.”
UNO’s start makes its preseason goal of playing in a postseason tournament (the Mavs are eligible to play in the CIT and CBI) seem justifiable. It makes the upcoming week of games — after Tuesday the Mavs play Saturday at Drake and Monday at South Carolina State — take on added importance.
“We haven’t had that talk, but I’m assuming our guys probably know that,” Hansen said.
South Carolina State (1-3), coming off an 87-53 loss Sunday at Nebraska, was picked to finish 11th in the 13-team Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs’ lone win was in overtime against NAIA St. Andrew’s (N.C.), and their other losses have been to Marshall (85-69) and Michigan (93-59).
But the Bulldogs have a highly athletic team led by 6-foot-11 senior Matthew Hezekiah, a preseason first-team All-MEAC player who averaged 12.9 points and 7.4 rebounds last year. Much of the current roster was recruited by ex-coach Tim Carter, who was UNO’s head coach in 1994-95.
“They mix it up on defense — man, zone, press — so we’re going to have to do a good job of recognition, not wasting time on the shot clock before we get into our offense,” Hansen said. “And we’ve got to keep them off the boards.”
South Carolina State outrebounded Nebraska 42-36. UNO, while improved on the boards from last season, has had trouble keeping starting big men John Karhoff and Mike Rostampour on the floor because of foul trouble. And UNLV’s dynamic tandem of former Connecticut starter Roscoe Smith and Mountain West defensive player of the year Khem Birch combined for 26 points, 32 rebounds and 11 blocked shots as the Runnin’ Rebels held on for a 73-70 win Friday.
“There were times we didn’t play well,” Hansen said of the UNLV game. “We’ve got some things we have to clean up. But once we get through (Tuesday), we’ll be able to take a deep breath before the weekend. Games have been coming fast and furious, and we’re looking forward to practicing and focusing on us Thursday, rather than doing game prep.”
The Mavs have also started well despite returning scoring leader Justin Simmons averaging just 9.0 points while shooting 25 percent from the field and 10.5 percent (2 of 19) from 3-point range. Simmons averaged 16.7 points while shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from 3 last year.
Simmons apologized to his teammates on Twitter following Saturday’s game for not performing to the best of his abilities.
It’s been just nine days, though, since Simmons found out that he was granted an eligibility waiver by the NCAA and will be allowed to play the full season, rather than having to sit out the final nine games.
“I’m sure having that on his mind has been part of it,” Hansen said. “But he’s still making the extra pass on offense and he’s where he needs to be defensively. The other part will come.”