Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 | 11:35 p.m.
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Anthony Marshall has been in this position several times before.
UNLV’s senior point guard dribbled away the final seconds against Colorado State, just waiting for his moment to attack. With about 15 seconds left Marshall drove right off a screen from Khem Birch. Based on the way the Rams had been denying penetration to the lane Marshall said he knew he wouldn’t get to the rim. He also knew he was going to take the Rebels’ final shot, so if that meant a jump shot, so be it.
The off-balance takeoff from about 15 feet away won’t appear in any textbooks, though the splash through the net with exactly nine seconds left was picture perfect. Marshall has taken a lot of late-game shots for UNLV with the game on the line, but to his recollection this was the first game-winner in 128 career games.
It felt good, he said, though he couldn’t experience that fully until the Rebels watched Daniel Bejarano’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer fall harmlessly to the Thomas & Mack Center court Wednesday night.
“I’m more proud of the fact we got back and got a defensive stop than anything,” Marshall said after the 61-59 victory.
The Rebels (20-7, 7-5) outrebounded the 22nd-ranked Rams (21-5, 8-3) by seven, becoming the first opponent to beat them on the boards all season. That, even more than Marshall’s shot, could turn out to be the legacy of this game.
“We really wanted to beat that team,” Marshall said.
Bejarano seemed to have as open a look as a coach could hope for in that situation, though UNLV coach Dave Rice commended his players for getting back in transition. Colorado State’s Larry Eustachy opted not to use one of his final two timeouts after Marshall’s jumper, and since UNLV was out of timeouts before its final shot, the ending felt frantic.
Before that sequence a physical seesaw broke out in the final four minutes, during which the game was tied four separate times. The paint was no man’s land for much of the game with Birch denying anything that came his way and UNLV building its 11-point halftime lead with six made 3-pointers. However, the floodgates down low opened up in that final stretch as the 16 total points scored before Marshall’s jumper were either at the rim or the free-throw line, with most of those trips earned by aggressive moves toward the basket.
Colorado State took a lead at the free throw line with just under two minutes left and after a questionable out of bounds call kept possession with UNLV, Bryce Dejean-Jones tied the game on a tip-in but missed the free throw he was awarded.
It’s notable that both of the previous shots on that possession were Marshall misses behind the three-point line. In the second half UNLV finished 0-for-9 from deep and before his game-winner Marshall was 2-for-8 from the field, including 1-for-7 on treys.
Despite those struggles, and the fact Marshall was coming into the game off an 0-for-8 shooting performance in Saturday’s victory against San Diego State, the senior had confidence he would make the next one.
“As soon as it left my hands, I knew it was good,” Marshall said.
And even though the Rebels didn’t have a timeout to set up that sequence, it played out with the options Rice desired.
“I wanted to run a high ball screen and let Anthony Marshall go to work,” Rice said.
Though guards Katin Reinhardt and Dejean-Jones each finished with more points (15 apiece) Rice would likely argue Marshall (11 points) earned his final shot as much as either of them for how hard they all rebounded. CSU is great on the boards because a guy like Bejarano, who’s listed at 6-foot-4, grabs defensive rebounds 20.6 percent of the time he’s on the floor. That’s a great number for a big guy let alone a guard.
The key to UNLV winning the rebounding battle was that its trio of starting guards all matched or outrebounded Bejarano. All told the Rebels’ trio pulled down more than half (14 of 27) of the team’s total defensive rebounds.
“That’s a huge number,” Rice said. “That’s team stuff.”
After playing what Rice called the best defensive first half of their season, the Rams started to pull even mostly because Birch sat with three fouls following the first second-half possession. When he was on the court there was almost nothing the Rams could do as the sophomore finished with six blocks and affected numerous others.
Had Birch picked up a quick fourth foul the Rebels could have been in big trouble, but Rice pulled him quickly to let the assistant coaches talk to him about what they needed the rest of the way.
“I wanted him to strike that tenuous balance between being aggressive and being smart,” Rice said.
Birch went back in with 16:37 left and didn’t pick up another foul the rest of the way. He and Anthony Bennett combined for 13 rebounds, 12 points and nine blocks.
This was a big homestand for the Rebels, and if you throw in the Feb. 9 victory against New Mexico you have a lot of reasons to be excited about the Rebels’ final four games. Trouble is, two of them are on the road.
UNLV couldn’t think about that until it got through the Rams. Now that the trip to Wyoming is next in the queue, it’s time for the Rebels to try to figure out their struggles with adversity away from home.
“We’ve just got to play through it,” Marshall said.
Against CSU, Marshall played through his offensive struggles and broke through for one of the biggest shots of his career. Considering the team has lost nine of its last 10 conference road games, UNLV could use another breakthrough Saturday.