In a game filled with momentum swings, the University of Nebraska at Omaha men's basketball team was able to get the final one as it nabbed a 79-75 nonconference win against Chicago State on Tuesday in front of a Ralston Arena crowd of 830.
Justin Simmons scored 15 of his game-high 26 points in the final six minutes for the Mavericks. CJ Carter added 15 points and Caleb Steffensmeier matched a season high with 14 points.
UNO coach Derrin Hansen said the game featured a lot of “spurtability.”
“I thought there were a lot of spurts in the game,” Hansen said. “I just felt that we had the last one.
“We jumped them early, and they came back and got on us and got ahead of us and we finally put a spurt on them with four or five minutes to go when we went zone.”
Chicago State had the Mavs (10-18) on the ropes with 5:13 remaining, leading 62-55 and frustrating a UNO team that made inbounding the ball look difficult for several minutes.
That's when the Mavs switched to a zone defense and went on a 14-0 tear to take a 69-62 lead with 1:53 left.
Steffensmeier, who had two key steals in that final run and was 3 for 3 from 3-point range in the second half, said that defensive adjustment was key.
“I think it started on our defensive end,” he said. “We kind of changed up a bit and went zone, and that really helped us get steals and get them out of their offense.”
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Simmons agreed that the switch to zone, which UNO rarely utilizes, confused the Cougars on offense.
“That slowed them down,” Simmons said. “They took tough shots, then bad shots, which led to our run-ups. That just changed everything.”
The Mavs jumped to a 12-2 lead, making four of their first five field-goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers by Alex Phillips and Alex Welhouse.
But the Cougars responded with a 13-2 run as Quinton Pippen knocked down a pair of 3-pointers and Jeremy Robinson added a third to give Chicago State a 15-14 lead with 13:12 left in the first half.
UNO led 36-30 at halftime, but the Cougars roared out of the break by hitting their first six shots of the second half en route to an 18-3 burst for a 48-39 advantage with 15:04 left.
The Mavs cut their deficit to 50-47 with 12:45 left after a pair of 3-pointers by Steffensmeier and another by Simmons.
UNO makes its first appearance in the ESPN BracketBusters event at 1 p.m. Saturday when it hosts North Dakota at Ralston Arena.
The Mavs conclude their season next week with home games against South Dakota State and North Dakota State.
The Mavericks are ineligible to compete in the Summit League tournament as they continue to reclassify as a Division I program.
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