Senior guard JT Gibson leaned to his right, then dribbled once with his left. He pulled up from about 25 feet.

It’s a move his teammates have seen countless times in the practice gym. But in the tense lead-up to that do-or-die moment — a climactic conclusion to a flawless UNO rally at the end of regulation — Gibson wasn’t thinking about using any specific maneuver to create space for himself. He didn’t even know if he’d get the ball.

Senior KJ Robinson had options when he darted across the half-court line. He spotted Gibson, though. And UNO’s leading scorer did the rest.

Gibson’s clutch 3-pointer with two seconds left forced overtime, and the Mavs (7-8) carried the momentum into the extra period to earn an 87-82 comeback win over Montana on Saturday afternoon.

“I knew we needed a 3,” said Gibson, who finished with 22 points. “I just had to create some space, so that’s what I did. I got a little bit of space and let it go.”

His shot capped an impressive last-minute surge for UNO, which has now won 12 straight home games for the first time under 15-year coach Derrin Hansen.

The Mavs were down 68-62 with 48 seconds left in regulation. But Robinson, who finished with 24 points, scored the next three buckets for his team — nailing a 3-pointer and twice racing by defenders for coast-to-coast layups. The Grizzlies went 4 of 6 at the foul line during that span.

That set the stage for Gibson. UNO had to go the length of the floor, trailing 72-69, with eight seconds on the clock. Robinson knew his teammate would come through.

“With JT, he’s working all the time, in the gym all the time,” Robinson said. “I’ve seen him shoot that exact shot that he shot — maybe not with the time coming down — but just rep after rep after rep. Him shooting that same exact shot. I had good confidence it was going in.”

Had Gibson missed, the Mavs would have lost for the sixth time in their past seven games.

Their heavy travel schedule in December seemed to start to wear on the players. They played games in four states. Hansen noted that the team also hasn’t been able to devote much practice time lately to address some of its own flaws.

Montana (4-7) nearly took advantage. It used a 12-2 run to flip a five-point deficit into a 66-61 lead with two minutes remaining. Senior guard Sayeed Pridgett, who finished with 32 points, had stretches where he couldn’t be stopped in post-up situations on the block.

“We did a good job defensively minimizing the high-percentage shots — we kept the ball out of the paint,” Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. “And we got the ball in the right places (on offense).”

But UNO kept battling.

The Mavs finished with a season-high 20 turnovers, but 11 of those came during the game’s first 10 minutes. They ended up out-rebounding Montana by 17. They had a season-high seven blocks. Hansen thought the announced crowd of 2,778 gave UNO a big lift.

And even though the Mavs relied on the playmaking ability of Robinson and Gibson, they ended up benefiting from production across their lineup.

Sophomore Marlon Ruffin’s defensive effort in isolation situations slowed down Pridgett. Junior Matt Pile’s two free throws with 42 seconds left in overtime — after he’d secured his 16th rebound — gave UNO the lead for good at 81-79. Sophomore Zach Thornhill scored nine of his 16 points in the extra period.

“We weren’t perfect,” Hansen said of Saturday’s performance. “But we grinded it out. And we were good enough at the end.”

The Mavs will return to action on Dec. 29 when they host South Dakota State for their Summit League opener.


Meet the 2019-20 UNO men's basketball team

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