On a night when UNO's offense was crisp and filled with precision, the ugliest play was the one that made the difference.
With the Mavericks clinging to a three-point lead, Caleb Steffensmeier drove toward the lane, had the ball stripped, but then dove for it to regain possession and passed to teammate Alex Welhouse for a wide-open layup with 40 seconds left in the game and just a couple of seconds left on the shot clock.
UNO tacked on six more points in the final 28 seconds for its second Summit League win, 90-79 over IUPUI before 916 Thursday night at the Ralston Arena.
“It was the time and score that we wanted,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said of the key layup. “It didn't exactly work out the way we drew it up, but it went in. We could have drop-kicked it in and I wouldn't have cared.”
UNO shot 72.7 percent from the field in the second half (16 of 22) and a season-best 62.3 percent (33 of 53) for the game, but still had to fight to hold off the short-handed Jaguars.
With leading scorer John Hart left home because of what coach Todd Howard called an eligibility issue and second-leading scorer Mitchell Patton limited because of a recurring leg injury, the Jaguars basically played six players — five players combined to play all but five minutes in the second half.
“It's funny, because every kid wants to play 40 minutes, right?” Howard said. “But when they do, they're worn out. But they're competitors. You can see in their eyes that they're going to give it all they have. But we're just banged up.”
Still, UNO went basically seven deep (backup forward Simon Krych was ill) while turning in its best shooting night since moving to Division I last season and its best since rolling over Division II doormat Lincoln (Mo.) just under two years ago.
John Karhoff had a season-high 20 points and added five rebounds, five assists, a career-high three blocked shots and two steals for UNO (5-14 overall, 2-5 Summit).
“I think the reason we shot so well is that we moved the ball so well,” Karhoff said. “Even the shots we missed were good looks. Guys were making the extra pass, and that makes the game a lot easier when you're moving the ball and finding the open guy.”
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CJ Carter scored 19 points on 8 of 9 shooting, Justin Simmons added 16 points and six rebounds, and Alex Phillips hit 6 of 7 while scoring 15 and getting six rebounds for the Mavs, who earned their fourth win over a Division I opponent this season.
The Mavs jumped into sixth place in the Summit — three teams have only one league victory.
“We've been in that boat as a new Division I program, and when teams come in, you know how they're going to play,” Howard said of UNO. “I wouldn't have expected anything but them having a whale of a game, because they've got good pieces.”
Hart, a 6-foot-2 senior transfer from Purdue, is averaging 14.2 points per game but is out indefinitely because of an eligibility question.
“By NCAA rules he's certainly eligible and met all the thresholds, but he's in a weird, unforeseen, unbeknownst circumstance that people didn't really see and technically we're holding him out,” Howard said.
Donovan Gibbs led the Jaguars (6-14, 1-5) with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Sean Esposito added 20 points. IUPUI hit 10 of its first 19 3-pointers, but missed its final three long-range attempts.
UNO led by 12 in the first half, but a basket by Gibbs and — after a UNO turnover — a 3 by Esposito got the Jaguars within 42-36 at the break.
UNO pushed the lead back to 61-49 with 13:47 left on a basket by Karhoff, but Esposito made three 3s — including the tying basket — in a 13-1 run to make it 62-62.
IUPUI took the lead at 64-63 on a drive by Jordan Shanklin, but UNO answered quickly with a basket by Karhoff, and Karhoff then converted a three-point play for a 68-64 lead.
The Mavs kept the lead between two and seven points the rest of the way. After Steffensmeier's hustle play made it 84-79, the junior guard hit a pair of free throws before Simmons added a double-clutch, reverse dunk.
“One of those days,” Howard said. “We've had one of those months. Down three, hold them, secure it, get a chance to cut it to one or tie it … you can at least get an attempt instead of going down five. That (play by Steffensmeier) spelled it.”
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