FORT WAYNE – On a night when nothing came easy, leave it to the freshman to make it sound that way.
“I was just trying to step up and knock down a big shot,” said Mo Evans, five minutes after IPFW defeated Nebraska-Omaha 86-82, maybe 10 minutes or so after he rose up, with 31.4 seconds showing, and dropped a 3-pointer that finally stole the dagger from an Omaha team that had it firmly in hand for so long.
“We were really fortunate tonight,” IPFW coach Tony Jasick said. “I thought the majority of the game they took it to us. I thought they outplayed us in all the effort categories.”
And then, they didn’t.
After nearly getting run out of their building in the first half by an Omaha team playing at warp speed – the Mavericks hit six 3s and outrebounded IPFW 20-13 in the first half, including 10-6 on the offensive glass – IPFW finished the first half on an 11-2 run to trail 44-38 and used that as a launch point.
Down 54-41 with 16:21 to play, the Mastodons scored 27 of the next 36 points to turn the game, regaining the lead at 64-62 on a Joe Reed layup with 9:52 to play. It was the Mastodons’ first lead since 7-6, and, although Omaha tied it twice more, IPFW never trailed again.
Pierre Bland’s free throws with 1:44 to play broke the last deadlock at 78, and Evans’ nerveless triple chilled it as IPFW went to 17-6, 5-1 in the Summit League.
Reed led IPFW with 20 points off the bench, and Evans (15), Joe Edwards (13) and Steve Forbes (11) also hit double figures for the Mastodons, who took rocket fuel out of Omaha’s attack in the second half.
Although Omaha (12-9, 2-4) finished with 16 offensive boards, the Mavericks got just six after halftime and were outrebounded 18-16 in the second half. More importantly, after sticking six of their first 11 3s, they went 3 of 16 from the arc the rest of the way.
Again, leave it to Evans to distill that to its essence.
“We’ve just got to continue keep fighting, keep champing at the bit, keep working,” he said of the mindset at halftime.
“We were trying to stick to the stuff that we do,” he said. “We knew they were a running team and that’s how they got to be leading the league in points per game. We knew they like to get out and get running. It was one of our emphases, and I think the second half we did a lot better.”
Behind the double-barreled threat of Justin Simmons (28 points) and John Karhoff (19), the Mavericks used an 8-0 run to go in front 12-7 four minutes in.
That eventually became 42-27 on a short Karhoff jumper with 4:32 to play in the half.
But then Omaha lost a bit of steam, and the Mastodons took off on their 11-2 run.
“We finally strung together a few stops,” Jasick said. “I think that led to the (run) to kind of get it under control. I think that was critical because you give yourself a little bit of life, a little bit of juice, going into the locker room.
“At the half, what was it, six? That was a manageable number instead of 14 or 15. That’s hard to manage.”