SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – It seemed like this could have been the year IUPUI broke through. Despite an up and down season, they avoided South Dakota’s half of the bracket and pummeled North Dakota State in the first round of the Summit League Tournament to advance for the first time since 2011. With a win against Omaha, who they split the season series with, they’d be one win away from an NCAA Tournament birth for the first time since 2003. Instead, they played one of their worst games of the season and lost 90-62.
Darell Combs was IUPUI’s only double-figure scorer with 22 points and the only IUPUI player to have any impact at all on the game. Kellon Thomas scored nine points, but shot just 2-for-10 from the floor and had no assists and five turnovers. Aaron Brennan and T.J. Henderson each had six points, but combined to shoot just 3-for-12 from the floor and 5-for-13 from the free-throw line.
Omaha, on the other hand, got strong performances all over the place. Mitchell Hahn led the Mavericks with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Tre’Shawn Thurman scored 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds. Tra-Deon Hollins scored 19 points and added five rebounds, two assists and four steals.
IUPUI played a competitive second half, getting outscored by just four points, and played Omaha close during the opening 11 minutes. But this game was decided in the final nine minutes of the first half. After O’Leary scored with 9:22 to go to cut Omaha’s lead to 18-14, the Jaguars went ice cold. They shot just 2-for-11 from the floor while missing all three free-throw attempts and turning the ball over eight times in that nine-minute stretch. They failed to score at all in the final 5:30 of the half. Omaha meanwhile shot 10-for-17 and their lead ballooned to 24 points at the half, 42-18.
During the regular season, IUPUI shot just shy of 40 percent from three-point range, but during the first half against Omaha they failed to make any of their 11 attempts. Their 3-point shooting improved in the second half as they shot 6-for-15, but the 24-point half time deficit was too much to overcome. Ironically the Jaguars, ranked 23rd in the country in 3-point field goal percent, finished with a season-worst 23.1 percent mark from long range. Brennan was the biggest reason IUPUI made it to the second round and one of the reasons IUPUI can be tough to defend, but he attempted just one 3-pointer Monday night.
Omaha didn’t fair much better from long range, going just 6-for-25, but otherwise dominated. They shot 51 percent from the floor while IUPUI shot 32 percent. They out-rebounded IUPUI 50-34 and made 71 percent of their free throws compared to 58 percent for IUPUI.
With the loss, any hope of post-season play is gone. The players and coaches will have to begin looking towards next year and all of its unknowns.