The final message was shouted from the UNO bench as the Baxter Arena crowd hushed before a pivotal free-throw attempt with eight seconds left.
It was meant to be a reminder of standard late-game fundamentals, but it ended up ominously forecasting the decisive sequence that played out over a five-second blur.
“We gotta get the ball stopped!”
Easier said than done.
Junior Matt Pile missed the front end of a one-and-one and South Dakota got the ball to speedy guard Triston Simpson, who zipped past halfcourt and eyed a path to the rim before the Mav defense could get set. UNO caught up to him near the top of the key, but it was too late.
Simpson tumbled to the court. The referees said he was tripped.
The Lincoln North Star product proceeded to sink two free throws with three seconds left, lifting the Coyotes to an 81-80 victory Sunday afternoon and snapping UNO’s 16-game home winning streak.
“I didn’t see the play,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “All of a sudden, I just saw him on the floor. I don’t know how he went down. That was tough. But we need to get the ball stopped quicker on that one, obviously.”
The miscue by UNO (12-11, 5-3) spoiled what could have been another thrilling rally for the Mavs, who’d overcome second-half deficits in each of their first four conference home wins this year.
They trailed 79-74 at the 3:21 mark Sunday, yet went ahead 80-79 with 21 seconds left after junior Ayo Akinwole went 2 for 2 at the stripe on back-to-back possessions.
They just weren’t able to finish off the Coyotes (15-8, 6-3).
After Pile missed that free throw and Simpson put South Dakota ahead, senior KJ Robinson missed a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer.
An ending like that is tough to swallow, but Robinson found himself thinking more about moments earlier in the game where UNO could have built a lead or kept the Coyotes from creating separation.
“We had a couple segments of maybe three minutes where we went on lulls, where we weren’t scoring,” Robinson said. “They capitalized on that.”
The Mavs lost the lead during the first few minutes of the second half when they managed two points over a six-possession stretch. They went ahead 74-70 at the 6:11 mark — then came five straight empty possessions and a 9-0 South Dakota run.
“I thought that was the big stretch of the game,” Hansen said.
Senior Tyler Hagedorn left his fingerprints all over it.
The 6-foot-10 forward from Norfolk, who leads the Summit League in scoring, beat the Mavs inside and out Sunday — he handled smaller guards near the rim after switches and buried jumpers when UNO gave him too much room on the perimeter.
His three-point play on a drive to the rim gave South Dakota a 77-74 lead with 3:48 to go. He added two free throws on the next trip down.
The Coyotes committed three straight turnovers and missed three straight shots from there, but the Mavs couldn’t keep Simpson from delivering at the end.
Said Robinson: “We didn’t do a good job of executing down the stretch.”
UNO assistant Tyler Bullock was not on the bench for Sunday’s game. He’s away from the team because of a personal matter, Hansen said.