UNO felt like it — figuratively — stole a game at North Dakota last month, when it rallied from a double-digit deficit to edge the Fighting Hawks 92-91 after trailing for more than 37 minutes.
The Mavericks stole another from North Dakota — in a more literal sense — Sunday at Baxter Arena.
UNO matched a season-high with 14 steals and turned 16 North Dakota turnovers into 26 points in its 90-72 win. The Mavs tallied 22 fast-break points.
Using a 21-3 surge that included a run of 15 consecutive points, UNO (13-9) built a big lead in the first half. Then the Mavs withstood a furious rally by the Fighting Hawks before pulling away again.
Zach Jackson and JT Gibson paced a balanced attack — in which UNO’s starting five combined for all but four of the team’s points — by scoring 22 and 20 points, respectively. Gibson tallied four steals.
“Our defense was playing really good in the first half — causing a lot of turnovers, being in gaps, helping each other out, which caused a lot of deflections,” Gibson said. “From there, we got out in transition.”
Jackson and Gibson combined for 11 straight points as UNO pressed the action in its decisive first-half surge. The Mavs shot 55 percent from the floor before intermission, attempting only six 3-pointers.
The fast-break baskets and relentless attack of the rim led to a 52-26 advantage in the paint. North Dakota had hurt UNO in that area in the first meeting, getting 24 points — and a hot start — from senior forward Conner Avants.
He missed the rematch with an ankle injury, forcing the Fighting Hawks to score from the outside. North Dakota drilled 12 shots from beyond the arc and outscored UNO 36-12 from long range to give itself a chance.
“It’s not very often you get outscored by 24 on the 3-point line and win by 18,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said. “Minus that five-to-seven-minute stretch, I really liked our guys’ fight and attitude and effort. I think it’s a lesson learned.
“But yet, I think it takes a team with some character to do what they did today and I’m really proud of them.”
North Dakota got a pair of 3s from Billy Brown and Aanen Moody as it reeled off 16 straight points in the second half to cut a 20-point Mav advantage to four. KJ Robinson, who had 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, ended the run with a 3. Then UNO built its lead back up to 20.
North Dakota coach Brian Jones, a former Maverick assistant, was happy with the rally, yet discouraged overall. His team dropped to 9-14 on the season and lost its ninth straight to the Mavs, dating to NCAA Division II days.
“The biggest difference in the game was our inability to value the basketball,” Jones said. “Give them a lot of credit. We made a run in the second half, and then they do what they do. They made tough shots. They’re really good offensively. They’ve got five guys on the floor that can make shots in timely fashion.”
Mitch Hahn also scored 16 for the Mavs, while Matt Pile chipped in 12. UNO played with a shorter bench with Zach Thornhill out and Brett Barney leaving after six minutes with an injury.
Ayo Akinwole contributed UNO’s only four bench points.
Hansen said it’s the most limited his team has been in awhile from a personnel standpoint. The fact that the Mavs had eight days between their last game and this one helped them stay strong at the finish.
“I liked our resiliency,” Hansen said. “I liked the way we fought back. I liked the fact that we gained control of the game again and then finished it.”
UNO, which remained second in the Summit League at 7-2, came out with a purpose. Jackson said after the time off, the Mavs were ready to get after somebody.
“We know they’re a good team,” he said. “We know every night we’ve got to come into play, no matter who it is. Them giving us a big fight up there helped us to get really focused for this game.”
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