Next year UNO is scheduled to play UNLV, Iowa and Minnesota.
But if the Mavericks consider ducking anybody, they may want to think about avoiding NAIA schools from Kansas.
Five weeks after St. Mary knocked off the Mavs, Benedictine nearly did the same thing Tuesday night before 1,068 fans at Ralston Arena.
But the Mavs dialed up their full-court pressure to produce a 10-0 run over a 40-second span that erased a nine-point deficit midway through the second half. They then rode career bests of 32 points, 11 rebounds and four steals from Justin Simmons to a 74-70 victory.
“I was pretty worried, because I wasn’t sure where our energy or our spurt was going to come from,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said.
The victory ended a five-game losing streak for the Mavs (3-10), who hadn’t played at home since that 96-86 loss to St. Mary on Nov. 11 — a stretch of 10 games that included several high-major teams and plenty of road miles.
Simmons scored 20 points in the second half, including the Mavs’ final four. He pushed the lead to 72-68 with a gliding jumper from 15 feet out with just under 12 seconds to go.
“Once I feel I have space, I’m pretty quick on the pull-up,” said Simmons, a 6-foot-3 junior. “Not many people can block it or contest it. I just wanted to make sure I made the right play.”
Simmons also sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 0.4 seconds to go.
UNO’s situation was getting perilous early in the second half as five times the Ravens built a nine-point lead. Guards Alex Phillips and Jacques Coleman had at times flustered Benedictine with full-court pressure, but the roof fell in with 8:56 left.
After a turnover, John Karhoff hit the first of two free throws. Phillips rebounded the miss and scored to make it 57-51. Simmons followed with a steal and layup while drawing a foul — and although he missed the free throw, Karhoff got the rebound and eventually Simmons drained a long 3. It was 57-56.
Simmons got another steal and was fouled, then made two free throws to put UNO ahead 58-57 with 8:16 to go.
“We played 39 really good minutes and there was about a one-minute stretch where we went from up nine to down one,” said Benedictine coach Ryan Moody, a former UNO assistant.
Karhoff, UNO’s center, had 17 points and a season-high eight rebounds. The 6-foot-8 junior made 11 of 14 free throws.
Charlie Wallrapp, a junior from Omaha Skutt, led Benedictine with 18 points and seven rebounds. John Harris of Lincoln High and Luke Norville of Council Bluffs Lewis Central each had eight.
Wallrapp’s three-point play with 2:22 left gave Benedictine a 68-67 lead and sent Karhoff to the bench with his fifth foul.
But Caleb Steffensmeier’s corner 3, on an assist from Simmons, put UNO ahead for good at 70-68 with 1:57 left.
“We’re not a team right now beaming with confidence because of where we’ve been and who we’ve played,” Hansen said. “We’ve been kind of hit in the head a lot over the last seven weeks.”
Moody, who experienced a transition to Division I like UNO’s while he was an assistant at North Dakota, said the Mavs are on the right track.
“It’s a grind the first two years,” Moody said. “You’ve got to get used to playing teams fast, and to the travel. We lost to an NAIA. We played close with some NAIAs. You just have to stay with your vision and stay the course.
“I know Derrin is doing that and he’s going to get it done. I’m excited to watch this program go.”
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