by: Ed Holdaway

OMAHA, Neb. – Senior Kellon Thomas scored a season-high 25 points, including a perfect 13-of-13 from the charity stripe, and Darell Combs added an efficient 18 as IUPUI stunned Omaha on Wednesday night (Feb. 8), 89-75 inside Baxter Arena. Senior Matt O’Leary chipped in 17 points and Aaron Brennan closed with 11 as the Jaguars led from wire-to-wire in a key road victory. 

Marcus Tyus led four Omaha (13-12, 6-6 Summit) players in double-digits with 20 points. 

IUPUI (11-14, 5-6 Summit) surged out of the gates, scoring seven quick points to prompt an Omaha timeout after the game’s opening three possessions. The Jags continued the opening attack, extending the lead to 11-0 before the hosts got on the board. Omaha finally scratched when Zach Jackson drained a wing three more than three minutes into the contest, which sparked a quick 6-0 run for the Mavs. 

Omaha crept within a single possession on numerous occasions in the first half, however IUPUI refused to relinquish the edge at any point. A late 9-0 IUPUI run pushed the bulge to 45-32 just before halftime, capped by a Ron Patterson layup. However, Omaha stole the momentum before the break by scoring the final six points of the half, sealed by a Tra-Deon Hollins steal and basket just before the final horn. 

Tyus, who sat most of the first half due to foul trouble, scored on a hard drive on Omaha’s initial possession of the second half to make it a five-point game, but IUPUI countered with a five-point burst and maintained a double-digit lead for nearly the entirety of the game. Combs opened the five-point rally with a trey and O’Leary followed with a tough right-handed hook with the shot clock winding down, extending the lead to 50-40. For much of the second half, Gardner’s squad opted to play methodically at the offensive end to help quell the typically fast breaking Omaha offense. 

“I thought we played really smart tonight,” Gardner said. “We never really let them speed us up and we didn’t have a whole lot of bad trips. We had a couple quick shots in there, but we can live with that. I thought the guys did a good job of taking their time, making the extra pass and finding the open shooters. 

“When we play like that, we can be really tough.”

IUPUI finished at 50 percent overall and hit 13-of-27 (48.1 percent) from three-point range. Eight of the Jaguars’ 13 treys came in the opening half from a variety of sources. Combs finished at 4-of-8 from deep while O’Leary hit 3-of-6 and both Brennan and Thomas also had two connections from behind the arc. IUPUI entered play ranked No. 25 in the country in three-point percentage and upped that total again on Wednesday. 

“We’ve got a lot of good shooters,” Gardner said. “We’ve got some guys who are knock down shooters when they get a clean look and we got a lot of good looks tonight. Making the extra passes and looking for the open guy led to a lot of good looks. Once a few go down, it kind of gets everyone feeling good.”

Defensively, IUPUI forced 18 turnovers and converted them into 26 points. Omaha shot an efficient 48 percent, but was limited to just 46 shot attempts while IUPUI had 58 hoists. 

“I thought we got in the passing lanes and turned some deflections into turnovers tonight,” Gardner said. “The guys were flying around a little bit and forcing them into mistakes. I liked our activity on the defensive end and the fact we were able to come up with quite a few 50-50 balls and turn those into possessions.

“I was proud of how we played defensively. We’ve been talking a lot about needing to get stops and stringing together stops. That’s the key to whether we win or lose is how many stops we can put together. Tonight, I thought we did a good job of getting stops when we needed them.”

The Jaguars collected 12 steals, led by D.J. McCall‘s three thefts. Sophomore Evan Hall returned from a one-game injury hiatus to contribute six points and a team-high eight boards off the bench while Patterson and T.J. Henderson both had five points off the bench. 

The win avenges an earlier loss to Omaha and vaults the Jags into the middle of the already congested Summit League standings. Seven of the league’s nine teams have between four and seven losses in league play with North Dakota State clearly at the top and Oral Roberts at the bottom. 

IUPUI will return home to host Oral Roberts inside Indiana Farmers Coliseum on Saturday night (Feb. 11) at 7:00 p.m.. That game will be broadcast on ESPN3 as Greg Rakestraw (pxp) and Hall of Famer Bob Lovell (analyst) will be on the call. In addition, the game can be heard on 97.5 Fox Sports FM, 1260 WNDE and the iHeartRadio app as Morgan Adcock (pxp) describes the action. 

Discounted tickets can be purchased on TicketMaster online by using the coupon code ‘IUPUI’, which will provide a $5 savings per ticket. In addition, special halftime entertainment will be provided by the IUPUI dance troupe – The Moving Company. In addition, as part of IUPUI Rotary Night, local area rotarians are invited to purchase tickets in Section 108 to network with each other and enjoy discounts and giveaways throughout the evening. 


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