SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — On Monday, the NCAA website featured an active list of the 43 teams among the 353 playing Division I men’s basketball that haven’t made an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“Omaha” will remain on it for a little while longer after UNO came up short in the Summit League final.
Fourth-seeded North Dakota State (18-15) led the Mavericks (21-11) for nearly the entire night and pulled away late behind tourney MVP Vinnie Shahid for a 73-63 win at the Sanford Premier Center.
The Bison will advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015. Shahid scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half in sending UNO to its second loss in the Summit championship in three years.
“You can’t play uphill all night,” Mavs coach Derrin Hansen said. “They had the lead for 36 minutes. And if you play uphill all night, it takes a lot of energy to overcome. We just couldn’t quite overcome that.”
UNO coach Derrin Hansen and the Mavericks discussed their 73-63 loss to North Dakota State in the Summit League tournament championship game.
North Dakota State turned the tables on the second-seeded Mavs after losing to them twice during the regular season. UNO rallied from 12 points down in the most recent of those games and won by eight.
Much like in that last meeting Fargo, North Dakota, Tuesday’s first half was a struggle for the Mavs. They actually trailed by more points at the break than they had that night, when they shot 28 percent and scored 20 first-half points.
North Dakota State held UNO without a field goal for the final 6:42 of the half to take a 41-27 advantage. The Bison ended the first half on a 12-2 run that included a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore Cameron Hunter, the son of Omaha native and former Kansas great Cedric Hunter.
The Mavs played the final 11:49 of the half without center Matt Pile after he picked up his second foul. But he and Zach Jackson fueled a 12-2 run to open the second half as UNO carved the lead down to four.
“We were confident for most of the game, I think, that we were going to get back in it,” said Jackson, who finished with 15 points. “It’s a championship game. They played really well. But we knew we had some fight in us. I think we fought in the second half. I couldn’t ask for more from my teammates.”
Pile missed a dunk that would’ve cut it to two, and the Bison reeled off eight straight behind Shahid. He followed a tough drive to the basket with a 3. Then Hunter sank three free throws after he was fouled.
The Bison lead was back to 12, but the Mavs surged again. Mitch Hahn scored seven of his team-high 16 points as UNO reeled off 12 consecutive points to pull even at 51-all on a Pile putback with 8:37 left.
Pile was fouled on the shot, but couldn’t hit the free throw that would’ve given the Mavs their first lead since the early minutes. Shahid buried a long 3 on the ensuing possession to ignite a personal seven-point outburst in a 9-0 run. North Dakota State led by six points or more the rest of the way.
“He took the big shots, and he made them,” Hahn said. “It takes a lot of guts to take those type of shots when a team’s coming back on you. Take a tough 3 from deep, and it goes in, it gives your team energy.”
Hahn, a co-captain with fellow senior Jackson, felt the Mavs always had a chance. They’ve had a history of overcoming double-digit deficits, having won five times previously when they were down 10 or more.
“When we tied it at 51, I thought it was kind of swinging our way because we’ve been in that situation so many times this year,” he said. “We’ve got the game back to where it it’s in reach, and it’s kind of ours. They just made great winning plays down the stretch, which put us away.”
UNO played for an NCAA berth for the second time in four seasons since becoming postseason eligible.
North Dakota State set the standard for modern day NCAA newcomers when they won the 2009 Summit championship in their first year of eligibility. That hadn’t been done by a D-I men’s program since 1972.
UNO came extremely close in its second season. A potential game-winning 3-point shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim in the 2017 Summit final as the Mavs fell to South Dakota State in a 79-77 thriller.
The Jackrabbits were the top seed entering this year’s tournament, but were upset by Western Illinois in the first round. That opened the door for North Dakota State to advance to the final.
SDSU and NDSU have combined to represent the Summit League in the last eight NCAA tourneys. Oral Roberts and North Dakota are the only other active Summit members to advance, and league newcomer UND did so while in the Big Sky Conference. UNO is among the five teams that haven’t qualified to date.
“We fought as hard as we could,” Jackson said. “They outplayed us. We’ve got to give all credit to them.”
The Mavs still reached new heights, but came up one game short in both the regular and postseason.
“This is going to hurt and going to sting, and I understand that,” Hansen said. “But it’s not going to define what these guys did and accomplished and helped get our program to — to another level.”