Both Omaha Maverick fans and basketball fans in general came out in record numbers Thursday night to get a glimpse of a great player.
What they saw was a great team.
South Dakota State rolled into the Ralston Arena looking like a legitimate NCAA Tournament team.
Led by their highly touted point guard, Naismith Award finalist Nate Wolters, the Jackrabbits put on a shooting, rebounding and all-around basketball clinic on their way to a 100-82 win.
Omaha fell behind 7-0 early on and trailed the rest of the night. A short back-and-forth exchange where the ball bounced their way for a couple of minutes brought the Mavericks within five points about eight minutes in, but it never got any closer than that.
Nate Wolters may get all the headlines, but South Dakota State looked solid throughout an eight man rotation.
The powerful play of Jordan Dykstra (12 points, 17 rebounds) inside combined with guard Chad White's ability to shoot the ball effectively (8-of-11 from the field) from anywhere on the floor had more to do with the outcome than anything Wolters did.
Justin Simmons, Omaha's leading scorer, did his best to keep the Mavericks in the game with 29 points. He spearheaded a run in the second half that brought the home crowd to life and made the game interesting.
Senior Alex Welhouse shot the ball well all night (4-of-6 from three-point range), helping Simmons keep Omaha in the game.
Several different Omaha players seemed to take turns guarding Wolters. It was Caleb Steffensmeier, however, whose gritty effort against the NBA prospect stood out most.
Despite a considerable size disadvantage, Steffensmeier was relentless in his defense of Wolters, at one point drawing a sizable roar from the crowd in the second half for his effort while chasing after and winning a loose ball.
After the game, Coach Derrin Hansen touted Steffensmeier's effort, saying the 6'1 junior guard "isn't afraid of anybody."
However, all the hustle and fearless play in the world didn't seem like it would have been enough to knock off the South Dakota State Jackrabbits–a team that looks primed for a solid postseason run and a date with March Madness.
The Jackrabbits out-rebounded the Mavericks 50-24 and shot .578 from the field.
Omaha (11-19) will finish off its season with a home stand against North Dakota State on Saturday.
The game marked the end of South Dakota State's regular season, as they clinched a share of the Summit League title and finished with a record of 22-9.
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