UNO coach Derrin Hansen said the regular message to his basketball team is to focus on winning four minutes at a time.
One of his veterans had heard it enough that he was there to repeat it Saturday with the Mavericks locked in a dogfight with North Dakota at the Ralston Arena.
“John Karhoff just said, 'Let's go win this last four minutes,'” Hansen said.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha did just that after the final media timeout, scoring 13 of the game's last 15 points to beat North Dakota 83-75.
Karhoff had back-to-back baskets to put the Mavs ahead 77-73, and Alex Welhouse followed with a 3-point shot with 1:16 remaining. UNO then survived two ill-advised fast breaks in the final minute — giving the ball right back to North Dakota with a charging foul and botched alley-oop — to win for the sixth time in its last eight games.
“Our guys believe in themselves and believe in each other, and we've won some close games,” Hansen said. “I think that's important.”
The Mavs (11-18) also benefited from not allowing a field goal in the final 5:44, after North Dakota had spent much of the game getting to the rim against the UNO defense. North Dakota coach Brian Jones said fatigue might have been a factor as his team missed its last 11 shots from the field.
And North Dakota also failed to get some defensive stops as UNO shot 50 percent from the field in the second half (16 of 32).
“Our Achilles' heel all year has been finishing ballgames when they're up in the air for anybody to take it,” said Jones, a former UNO assistant.
Karhoff, a junior center from Omaha Creighton Prep, and CJ Carter, a sophomore guard from Omaha Benson, were instrumental in the Mavs taking this one before a crowd of 1,356.
Karhoff took an inbounds pass from Caleb Steffensmeier to score and break a 73-73 tie with 3:03 left. It was then the penetration of Carter that set up Karhoff's next basket and Welhouse's 3-pointer for the 80-75 lead.
“They had to guard me off the bounce,” said Carter, who finished with 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
UNO followed with consecutive defensive stops only to have Justin Simmons called for a charge before Alex Phillips and Carter failed to convert an alley-oop.
Simmons scored 20 points to lead the Mavs, his 10th game of 20-plus this season. Karhoff posted his third career double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Although UNO is now in the Summit League and North Dakota in the Big Sky, the teams previously were long-time rivals in the old North Central Conference.
“Coming into the game, we wanted to show up for those guys that played in those battles,” Karhoff said. “And we kind of did that today.”
NOTES: Saturday's game was part of the BracketBusters series, but Jones said North Dakota would like to start playing UNO regularly in nonconference matchups.
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