TULSA, Okla. — UNO’s hopes for a Summit League regular-season championship didn’t end with its loss at Oral Roberts on Thursday. But now the Mavericks need some help to catch South Dakota State.
The Golden Eagles took UNO’s conference destiny out of its own hands with an 84-80 come-from-behind victory at the Mabee Center, overcoming a career-high 35 points from forward Mitch Hahn to pull it off.
Oral Roberts (11-20) outscored the Mavs 20-7 over the final six minutes to sweep the season series. The result dropped UNO (18-10) to 12-3 in league play — a full game out of first place — with one game left.
In order to capture the Summit title now, the Mavs need a victory at last-place Denver in Saturday’s regular-season finale. They also need eighth-place Western Illinois to pull off a road upset at SDSU.
Thursday’s loss ended a six-game winning streak for UNO, which had gone 11-1 since suffering an 87-84 home defeat at the hands of the Golden Eagles on Dec. 30. The Mavs hadn’t been beaten since Jan. 26.
“We’ve always been kind of chasing teams,” UNO coach Derrin Hansen said on his postgame radio show. “For one of the few times, I really felt like we were the hunted tonight. I thought they hunted us down. ... People are going to come after us. They’re trying to hunt us down, and we have to respond better.”
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Much like in the December meeting, ORU controlled much of the opening half. After withstanding a strong start by UNO, the Golden Eagles built a 13-point first-half advantage by shooting 61 percent from the field over the initial 16 minutes. They held a 35-22 lead following a jumper by guard Kaelen Malone.
Fueled by Hahn, the Mavs closed the half with a 12-4 surge to pull within 39-34 at the break. They made up the rest of the deficit in the opening four minutes of the second half before eventually moving ahead.
Hahn followed up a Matt Pile tip-in with a drive to the basket to put UNO up by six. He then canned a long 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Mavs their biggest lead of the night, 73-64, with 6:13 to play.
Oral Roberts wiped out that deficit in a hurry, pulling even on an Emmanuel Nzekwesi basket with 3:34 left. JT Gibson missed a 3 on UNO’s next possession, and Zach Jackson fouled Francis Lacis on a 3-point shot with 2:27 to go. Lacis sank all three free-throw attempts to put ORU up to stay.
KJ Robinson missed a potential tying 3 in the final minute. Nzekwesi made it a two-possession game with a pair of free throws. Hahn then capped his big night with a 3 to get UNO within 82-80 late.
“He had a magnificent night,” Hansen said. “I wish we could’ve capped it with a win for him.”
Kevin Obanor’s free throws with nine seconds left sealed the win for the Golden Eagles, who finished their Summit campaign at 7-9 by snapping a three-game losing streak. Nzekwesi ended with 25 points.
After surviving a number of close calls lately, UNO couldn’t make a nine-point lead stand in the closing minutes in a game that now puts its title hopes in doubt. The Mavs didn’t make enough stops at the end.
“It wasn’t the shots we didn’t make down the stretch,” Hansen said. “But it was a ball screen that we let get all the way to the rim for a basket. It was a weak three-point play that we let get up but shouldn’t have. It was a 3 in transition that we’ve got to run and make sure we get matched. You just take away one of those ... and you probably win the basketball game going away. But we didn’t do that tonight.”