SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The scene was the same, the game unfolded in the same manner, and the result was identical, as well.
For the second straight year, Fort Wayne didn’t guard particularly well when it absolutely needed to in a Summit League Tournament battle and it lost and got sent home.
A year ago, it was North Dakota State that overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 4:18 to upend the Mastodons 69-68, while Sunday it was Omaha who did the damage.
The Mavericks (17-13) rallied from 10 points down (this time it took 8:56) to beat the Mastodons 84-80.
Omaha advances to face IUPUI (14-17) tonight at 9:30 p.m. (EST), while South Dakota (22-10) will play South Dakota State (16-16) in the other semifinal.
“I’m clearly disappointed in the outcome tonight,” third-year Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman said. “Our guys were ready to play. They were prepared. They showed great resilience early.”
But what the Mastodons (19-12) didn’t do – last year or Sunday – was defend well late.
When Fort Wayne forward John Konchar hit a jumper to put his team ahead 67-57 just under the 9:00 mark of the second half, many of the 9,837 watching had to have thought the Mastodons just sealed this deal.
That basket provided the final points of a 15-6 Fort Wayne run and aside from the initial eight-plus minutes of the game, the Mastodons had dominated the Mavericks at both ends of the floor.
“Fort Wayne gives us a tough game every time that we play them,” Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman said. “Those guys played their hearts out.”
After allowing Omaha to take a quick 16-6 lead to start the game, the contest had essentially been all Fort Wayne.
The Mastodons responded to their slow start with a 12-2 run to tie the game at 18 and then just kept on going, as they led by nine (42-33) at halftime.
“They were kicking us at halftime in the paint,” Maverick coach Derrin Hansen said.
That Mastodon mojo didn’t stop following the intermission either.
Konchar had 13 points by halftime and finished with a game-best 25, which was his average against Omaha for the season in three games.
“Konchar is just crazy athletic,” Thurman said. “And he’s a smart player.”
But games are 40 minutes in length and particularly in this series; it takes good play – at both ends – for every second in order to prevail.
The Mastodons have won 10 of their last 12 games against the Mavericks, but the average margin of victory is less than seven points. In three of the past four seasons, the two teams have played games into overtime.
“It’s been tough,” Hansen said. “We’ve had so many close games with Fort Wayne. We’ve been beat at the buzzer. We’ve been beat in overtime; any which way possible.”
In Sunday’s game, Omaha simply showed it “was the tougher team,” according to Thurman. To his point, Omaha closed the game on a 27-13 run.
The Mavericks made each of their last five shots, while Fort Wayne missed four of its final five baskets. The result was Omaha closing the game on a 6-0 run and ultimately shooting 57 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes.
“We made a couple of adjustments on our ball screens and a couple of plays that we ran,” Omaha guard Marcus Tyus explained of his team’s offensive success in the second half. “In the first half, we were taking one-and-done shots; we weren’t swinging the ball as well.”
Fort Wayne had limited the Mavericks to just 34 percent shooting in the first half, but allowed Omaha to make 6 of 11 (54.5 percent) from long range in the second half. It was eerily similar to the North Dakota State loss.
In that game, the Mastodons held the Bison to 35 percent shooting in the first half, but gave up 63 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“Omaha showed their own resilience and it was a great college basketball game,” Coffman said. “But down the stretch, I was really pleased with some of the (offensive) looks that we got, the ball just didn’t fall.”
Brent Calhoun had a double-double in the defeat with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while guard Kason Harrell added 17 points.
Bryson Scott chipped in 10 points for Fort Wayne.