SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- In two previous games against Omaha this season, the University of North Dakota lost a heartbreaker at home and couldn’t pull off a late rally against the Mavericks on the road.
Close in the regular season is one thing.
Close in the postseason just won’t cut it.
UND, the No. 7 seed, pushed No. 2 Omaha again Saturday night in the quarterfinal round of the Summit League postseason tournament but the Mavericks again had just enough of everything to take an 81-76 win at the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
Omaha (20-10) advances to Monday’s semifinal round against No. 8 seed Western Illinois, which pulled off a stunner by beating No. 1 South Dakota State 79-76 in the tournament’s first game.
UND, which closed out at 12-18, was hoping its string of solid postseason play the past few years would continue.
It didn’t, mainly because of Omaha’s scoring depth and its work on the offensive glass, which led to 21 second-chance points.
“The difference in the game was the backboards,” said UND coach Brian Jones. “They had 21 second-chance points to our 11. We couldn’t give them second shots because they are such an efficient offensive team.”
But that was the only major flaw in UND’s game. The Mavericks, who are having its best-ever season in the Summit, couldn’t put away the Hawks.
The Hawks found themselves trailing by two or three possessions much of the game. Their final push came with just under three minutes to play. Marlon Stewart scored on a strong drive to the basket and drew a foul.
His three-point play left the Hawks trailing 76-73 with 2:44 to play.
Stewart scored again at 1:15 to cut Omaha’s lead to 77-76. And the Hawks had the chance to grab the lead but Stewart couldn’t finish a drive with 41 seconds to go.
Omaha’s Wanjang Tut got loose inside and scored with 15 seconds to play for a 79-76 Omaha lead. Stewart, who led UND with 26 points, again drove to the hoop with just under six seconds to go but couldn’t convert.
Mitch Hahn grabbed the rebound after a scramble and was fouled with 3.8 seconds to go. He dropped in two free throws for the final margin.
“On our last play, I got to the rim and there was contact but I just couldn’t finish,” said Stewart. “That’s something we have to do late in the game to win.”
Much like the season, UND stayed the course during the game. A number of times, the Hawks manage to fight back from eight- and nine-point deficits.
“We were in foul trouble pretty much the whole game but we managed to piece things togther, using different lineups, going small ball,” said Jones. “Our guys stayed the course and did a great job in getting it to one possession and having the chance to take the lead. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
The Hawks shot 50 percent and committed only seven turnovers.
But Omaha’s balance came up big as four Mavericks finished in double figures, led by Zach Jackson’s 21 points.
Omaha led most of the first half but the Mavericks couldn’t pull away. UND’s 3-point shooting kept the Hawks around as Aanen Moody (14 points) and Billy Brown (10) had 11 and 10 points, respectively, at the break.
The only flaw in UND’s game in the first 20 minutes was turnovers. UND committed five and Omaha, one of the best Division I teams in the county in capitalizing on opponents’ turnovers, converted those floor errors into 11 points.
UND loses only two seniors -- Cortez Seales and Conner Avants.
“The whole season was about rebuilding the culture,” said Seales. “And I think we did that.”