BOULDER, CO —- The Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks aren’t quiet the brand name that their in-state big brother - and longtime CU rival - Cornhuskers are, but they may as well have been on Friday night. The Mavericks gave CU all they could take for 40 minutes, but in the end the Buffs were able to pull out a 79-75 victory. It was a back-and-fourth contest that saw 24 ties and 17 lead changes.
Colorado shot themselves in the foot early on. Led by point guard JT Gibson - who was a high school teammate of McKinley Wright - the Mavericks scored eight points off four CU turnovers to take a 11-6 lead five minutes into the game. For Wright, it was a unique opportunity to play against someone he’s looked up to for many years.
“[He’s] one of my best friends,” Wright said. “He kind of showed me the ropes when I was young - 7th grade I met him, he was a freshman in high school and ever since then our relationship has grown.”
Gibson would finish the contest with a game high 18 points on an impressive 7-11 shooting from the field.
After the Mavericks hot start, Head Coach Tad Boyle promptly called a timeout and brought in the second team to try and change the tempo. His strategy worked to perfection as the unit promptly went on a 7-0 run behind four points and a assist from Namon Wright to regain the lead 13-11.
Later the Buffs found their rhythm from beyond the arc. D’Shawn Schwartz hit a corner three, and big man Lucas Siewart had two shots from downtown. Siewart’s three point shooting has quietly turned into his most underrated attribute. He finished the game shooting 4-for-6 from downtown, and tied for a team high 16 points.
“We talked in our film session after the Drake game with our team that Lucas Siewart needs to get more than four shots,” Boyle said. “He was 4-for-4 against Drake, he got ten shots tonight, and I’d like to get him twelve or fifteen quiet frankly especially with the way he shoots it and the confidence he’s playing with.”
Led by the hustle of Tyler Bey, Colorado was able to stretch their lead out to 33-29 at the break. Bey was tied for a game high with 8 points, and added four rebounds including two on the offensive side, at halftime. Although he didn’t show up in the scoring column in the first half, Evan Battey made an impact playing a physical brand of basketball. He had a game high five rebounds at the break.
Nebraska-Omaha responded nicely out of the break. They went on a 16-9 run in the first 5:40 of the 2nd half to take a 45-42 lead. But Siewart hit three’s on back-to-back possessions to put the Buffs back up by one.
Colorado went nearly three minutes without scoring a basket until a McKinley Wright layup evened the score up at 58. After severals minutes of basket trading, Bey had a three point play that put CU up 77-72 and seemingly put the game away.
However, the Mavericks wouldn’t go down without a fight. A one handed three by Zach Jackson cut the score to 77-75 with 17.6 seconds left. There was a pin dropping silence seconds later when McKinley Wright stepped out of bounds to give Omaha a shot to tie the game. But a costly turnover by Jackson on the ensuing possession overshadowed his heroics seconds earlier. Wright redeemed himself with a pair of free throws to ice the game, and the Buffs advanced to 2-0 on the season.
Although Wright made some big shots down the stretch and finished the game with 13 point, he wasn’t his usual self tonight. He turned the ball over 5 times and missed a couple shots. Luckily Siewart and Bey were able to step up for CU, and allow everyone to feed off them.
If this team wants any chance at success, they will need to have guys aside from McKinley that can step up and be the star on a given night. But as the standout of this team and one of the leaders in the locker room, he was willing to accept full responsibility for his poor performance acknowledging he has to do better down the road.
“My energy and effort - it was bad,” Wright said. “I wasn’t fully there tonight, and I know my guys feed off of me so I have to do better from the get-go.”
CU will travel to sunny Southern California for a nationally televised bout with the San Diego Torreros on Tuesday.