UNO’s late-game pressure defense, steal and dunk show made the final few minutes exciting.
But Terell Parks had long since taken care of the outcome.
First-place Western Illinois’ 6-foot-9 big man had three baskets in the first 1:36 of the second half and made 6 of 7 from the field in the first 7:12 after the break to take the Leathernecks’ three-point lead to 12.
Then Western Illinois, after building the lead to as many as 22 points, withstood a furious late UNO rally for an 89-74 Summit League victory on Saturday before 1,017 at Ralston Arena.
“Terell is as dominant a big man as there is in this league,” Western Illinois coach Jim Molinari said. “He’s 6-9. He’s about 240. And he’s so quick. Those are the type of players who usually play in the Big Ten. Terell has that type of athletic presence.”
UNO (5-15, 2-6 Summit) battled back late, scoring on five straight possessions — including four steals that led to a CJ Carter layup and three Justin Simmons dunks. The last of the highlight-reel sequence was Simmons’ alley-oop dunk in transition that cut the deficit to 77-70 with 1:46 to go.
“Maybe we could have gone to it earlier,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said of the Mavs’ full-court pressure. “I don’t know, with the depth of our bench, if we could do that for 40 (minutes), but I knew we could do it for eight or nine if we had to. It worked for us for a little bit.”
Parks, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes, scored while being intentionally fouled after the Leathernecks broke the pressure on the next possession and appeared to injure his left wrist while crashing to the floor.
Molinari said the All-Summit League candidate would have X-rays when the team returns to Macomb, Ill.
“I have concerns,” Molinari said.
Ceola Clark hit one of the two free throws for the intentional foul to make it 80-70, then Remy Roberts-Burnett made another free throw with 1:33 left to cap a four-point possession and give the Leathernecks an 81-70 lead, all but sealing the outcome.
Western Illinois (14-3, 6-0), ranked 22nd in the CollegeInsider.com mid-major poll, won its 11th straight game.
UNO, which entered the day sixth in the nine-team Summit League, showed more incremental signs of progress in its second year in Division I.
“Three weeks ago we were getting blown out, but things are starting to change,” UNO wing Alex Phillips said. “We’re a lot more competitive on the defensive end.”
The Mavs jumped out to an 11-2 lead and led or were tied for the first 17½ minutes. Then came the wild finish.
“It’s hard when you’re transitioning, but you could never say they weren’t playing for their lives,” Molinari said. “I told our team that they’re well-coached, they’ll never quit, and they have very good athletes.
“We don’t have an athlete like Simmons or Phillips, and you could tell. Luckily the clock ran out, because they just made play after play.”
Simmons led UNO with 18 points, while Phillips added 13.
The Mavs shot only 32.1 percent (9 of 28) in the first half, and needed a 12-for-15 finish from the field to get from 33.3 percent to 44.4 at game’s end against the Summit’s best defensive team.
“That defense was different,” Simmons said. “They’re big and athletic in there. ... That’s a pretty good defensive team.”
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