Just when it appeared that UNO had produced a decisive stretch of momentum-shifting plays to finally put away their resilient opponent, Loyola Maryland rallied yet again.
And the Mavs nearly let one slip away.
But the potential game-tying 3-pointer bounced off the rim and sophomore Zach Thornhill hit two free throws with two seconds left to seal a 70-65 win — and UNO coach Derrin Hansen’s thumping heart could then stop racing as if his team had been the one tirelessly climbing out of a hole all Tuesday night.
“My heart rate is pretty high for leading the game for 38 minutes and 42 seconds,” Hansen said afterward. “They were always on our heels.”
Especially at the end.
The Mavs (5-3) squandered their double-digit lead in the last four minutes, going 1 of 7 from the floor and committing two turnovers. They missed a couple quality looks at the rim. They made some mistakes against the press. They got whistled for clock-stopping fouls.
It’s an end-of-game scenario that you routinely run through in practice, Hansen said, but you can’t simulate all the emotions of a competitive setting – particularly with a desperate Loyola Maryland squad applying the pressure.
So UNO now may have to tweak some tactics after the way Tuesday’s contest ended. Certainly, it’ll try to learn from this.
“That’s something we’ve got to work on, is just finishing because that’ll definitely be important down the stretch (of the season),” said junior Matt Pile, who scored 14 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. “But all that matters is we got the victory.”
The Greyhounds (3-4) were trailing by three points when they called a timeout with 8.3 seconds left to draw up a play for the game’s leading scorer. They got the shot they wanted, too. Senior Andrew Kostecka, who finished with 25 points, rose up for a 3-pointer on the wing. He just missed it.
“They fight. They get down, and they never quit,” said Loyola coach Tavaras Hardy, whose team was picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League preseason poll. “We knew it was going to be a challenge, but I thought our guys gave us a chance, and that’s all we ask for.”
The Greyhounds certainly got to play the style they preferred Tuesday. Their back-cutting guards and rolling big men made UNO work defensively while their unconventional zone look forced the Mavs to slow their attack.
Yet with five minutes left, senior KJ Robinson knocked down his third straight 3-pointer to put UNO ahead 62-50. But just like the Greyhounds’ 10-0 run at the end of the first half, they battled back again.
The Mavs just had to hold on.
Said Hansen: “We won a game that you have to grind, and that’s good for us.”
The victory clinched a championship for UNO in Cayman Islands Classic Mainland Tournament, a four-team event that took place over two days at Baxter Arena. The Mavs, who have won three straight, defeated Southern 78-51 Monday.