CJ Carter is back.
So, maybe, is UNO.
Carter scored a career-high 26 points and the Mavericks bounced back from a disheartening loss to South Dakota just two days earlier with a 77-65 victory Monday night over Missouri-Kansas City for the school's first-ever Summit League win.
“We could have played better against South Dakota,” Carter said. “But it's good that we left that in the past and came back ready to play and came to win.”
Did they ever.
Before 642 at Ralston Arena, UNO looked like a completely different team than the one that 48 hours earlier had put up little resistance in a 95-72 loss to South Dakota.
Against the Kangaroos, UNO built a 26-point first half lead, then surged again when the margin was cut to 10 points with 4:55 left.
“Coming off a quick turnaround from a game we were pretty disappointed in, tonight was maybe a polar opposite,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “We challenged our guys in the last 48 hours.
“Wins and losses aren't the important part of it, but giving ourselves a chance with effort and energy, playing together … I thought we showed that tonight.”
A 15-0 run late in the first half gave the Mavs a 43-17 lead, and they led 43-21 at halftime against a team that had given up just 52 points for a full game against No. 25 Kansas State two days earlier.
“I felt like they weren't going to bring the same intensity, and I felt like we could take advantage of that,” UNO wing Justin Simmons said. “It was easy, honestly. When we watched (Saturday's game), they looked like a great team, but I guess since we didn't have K-State on our jersey, they took us lightly.”
UMKC coach Matt Brown said Simmons got that right.
“I'm disappointed because I thought we played one of our best games of the year against Kansas State,” Brown said. “I tried to tell our guys, regardless of record (UNO was 3-12) … I don't think we respected their team, and we got exactly what we deserved.”
Carter, who averaged 10.4 points per game last season as a freshman, scored 16 in the season opener against Northern Illinois. but while battling a nagging back injury, he hadn't scored more than 11 in a game the rest of the season and was averaging just 6.1 points.
But he made 10 of 12 from the field and added four rebounds and four assists while making key plays that helped UNO build its early lead and then hang on late.
Simmons hit five 3-pointers while scoring 20 points and Alex Welhouse added 10 points and 10 rebounds for UNO (4-12, 1-3), which hit eight first-half 3-pointers and 10 for the game — one short of its season high.
Thomas Staton scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half to help UMKC (4-10, 1-2) nearly recover from its deficit.
A Staton 3-pointer made it 68-58, but the 6-foot Carter scored on back-to-back driving layups to restore the lead to 14 with 3:30 to play. Carter's second layup was a left-hander while sliding around the defense of 6-11 Brad Reid.
“CJ hadn't been himself,” Simmons said. “Then all of a sudden, there he was. That's what I've been waiting for.”
Monday's combination of effort and execution is something UNO had been waiting upon, too.
“What we saw tonight, we hope, isn't a fluke,” Hansen said. “If it happens one more time, I hope it's not just a coincidence. If we can get it to happen a third or fourth time, then maybe we'd have a pattern developing. And that would be a good thing.”
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