SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — UNO senior captains Mitch Hahn and Zach Jackson have been craving another chance at a Summit League tournament title since they came up just short in the finals two years ago.
They’ll get it on Tuesday after surviving another down-to-the-wire thriller against Purdue Fort Wayne.
The Mavericks (21-10) will face fourth-seeded North Dakota State (17-15) in the championship game, with an automatic NCAA tournament bid on the line, following Monday’s 61-60 win over the Mastodons.
It will be second-seeded UNO’s first appearance in the conference final since a last-second 3-point shot by Tra-Deon Hollins bounced off the rim in a 79-77 loss to South Dakota State in the 2017 tournament.
“This is something me and Zach have talked about since the missed shot two years ago,” Hahn said. “The only thing on our mind was getting back to this same situation we’re in now. It means the world to me.”
In order to advance to Tuesday’s championship at the Denny Sanford Premier Center, the Mavs needed some good fortune. They took the lead for good on a Hahn 3 with 3:10 to play, but had to hold on after.
And as it has on so many other occasions when UNO and Fort Wayne have met over the past four years, the game came down to a final possession with the ball in the hands of Mastodon star John Konchar.
Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman elected not to use a timeout in the closing seconds, knowing that UNO still had fouls to give. Konchar initially gave the ball up before eventually getting it back and letting it fly.
“Really, I just passed the ball right away. I thought someone, maybe, could get open,” Konchar said. “We swung the ball a little bit, and I ended up with the ball back and shot it. It just didn’t go in.”
It was the second time this season that Konchar, a four-time first-team all-conference selection and one of the best players in Summit history, missed a late shot to top UNO. He’s beaten UNO with one before.
“When it left his hands, I thought it was good,” Maverick coach Derrin Hansen said. “When it was halfway there, I thought it was off. But we’ve seen that way too many times. He’s such a great player.”
The Mavs overcame 17 turnovers, their most since Nov. 28, and 24-point second half to advance. They were ahead in the game for more than 32 minutes, but the teams traded the lead multiple times late.
UNO reeled off 13 straight points during a 10-for-13 start from the field. The Mavs led by as many as 12 points in the first half before taking a 37-30 lead to the intermission. They shot 54 percent from the floor before the break, but also turned the ball over eight times. UNO, one of the best teams in the nation at protecting the basketball, had eight or fewer turnovers in its previous nine games.
That didn’t improve after halftime, but the Mavs still extended their advantage back to 12. The Mastodons answered with eight consecutive points to get within four. They’d eventually grab a 51-50 lead when Dylan Carl hit a 3. Jackson answered with his own 3 only to have Jarred Godfrey tie the score.
It was back and forth the rest of the way. Konchar put the Mastodons up 60-58 with two free throws. Hahn’s decisive 3 came on the next possession and ended up being the final points scored in the game.
Coffman credited UNO afterward, calling it the best UNO team he’s seen in his eight years. He also expressed his disappointment for his squad, which came from 12 down to have a chance at the end.
“We’re more known for our offensive prowess, but (we held them to) 24 points in the second half when your basketball life is on the line,” Coffman said. “That’s a group that loves playing with each other.”
This was the 10th meeting between the two teams in the past four seasons. The previous nine matchups featured six games decided by five points or less in regulation and three others that went into overtime.
UNO won both of the previous meetings this year. It rallied from 17 points down in the second half to stun the Mastodons 85-79 in OT in Fort Wayne, Indiana, before edging them 74-71 in Omaha later on.
Konchar had the ball at the end in each of the last two games, but the Mavs escaped both times.
“I had confidence on the last possession in my teammates,” Jackson said. “We’d been playing good defense all night.”
Students can catch a bus to see UNO play in the Summit championship; ESPN2 will broadcast game
A charter bus will take University of Nebraska at Omaha students to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Tuesday night so they can cheer on the Mavericks in their quest to make the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
No. 2 seed UNO will play in its second Summit League championship final in three years at 8 p.m. The Mavs will play No. 4 seed North Dakota State, which defeated Western Illinois in Monday’s first semifinal. UNO defeated Purdue Fort Wayne in Monday’s second semifinal game.
The winner of the Tuesday night game will get the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 and WatchESPN.com.
The bus will leave the Milo Bail Student Center at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25, which covers transportation and a ticket to the game.
Additional information about the bus trip, discounted student tickets, and ways to cheer on @OmahaMBB in Omaha and in Sioux Falls: https://t.co/G5MZNSI7xW #EveryoneForOmaha #MavSPIRIT pic.twitter.com/InGQmMXV06
— UNO (@UNOmaha) March 12, 2019
Summit League notes: Lincoln East grad Sam Griesel has a career night for North Dakota State
It was a semifinal to remember for North Dakota State freshman Sam Griesel. The Lincoln East product had a team-high 20 points and five rebounds in the Bison’s 76-73 win over Western Illinois.
“He has always understood the moment and it was fun to see,” North Dakota State coach Dave Richman said of Greisel’s big night.
Griesel set career high’s in points, minutes (33), field goals (8) and 3-point field goals (2) in the win. His two 3-pointers came in the second half when his team needed a big shot.
“My teammates told me all year to just shoot,” Griesel said. “My teammates were helping me out and giving me confidence to make” these shots down the stretch.
Greisel’s confidence could have been shaken with an early season knee injury that caused him to miss more than a month earlier in the season.
“I struggled with confidence early and coach has been working with me a lot on that part of my game,” he said.
Griesel chose North Dakota State after initially choosing South Dakota over UNO.
Nebraskans in women’s final
When South Dakota and South Dakota State face each other in the women’s championship, a pair of Nebraska products are likely to take the court. South Dakota State sophomore guard Riley Cascio Jensen (Fremont) played 19 minutes and had three rebounds in the Jackrabbits’ 86-55 semifinal win over Oral Roberts. South Dakota freshman Regan Sankey (Lincoln East) played one minute in the Coyotes’ 84-61 win over North Dakota.
Akinwole’s four-point play
UNO sophomore guard Ayo Akinwole scored six points in the win over Purdue Fort Wayne. Akinwole converted on a four-point play with the Mavs leading 42-38 with just under 15 minutes left in the game.
Summit League Championship
Who: UNO vs. North Dakota State
Where: Denny Sanford Premier Center, Sioux Falls, S.D.