Friday, Feb. 4, 1977 | midnight
NORMAL, Ill.- A young and mostly experienced Illinois State basketball team cashed in on eight consecutive one-and-one free throws in the final three minutes Thursday night to upset third-ranked UNLV, 88-84, and end the Rebels 14-game winning streak.
The Redbirds, now 16-6 led from start to finish in handing UNLV only its second loss in 19 games. But it took pressure-packed foul shots by freshmen Ron Jones and Del Yarbrough and sophomores Derrick Mayes and Rick Ferina to hold off a late Rebel rally.
Cheered on by a rabid sellout crowd of 8,000 at Horton Fieldhouse, Illinois State led by as many as 14 in the first half before settling for a 47-36 halftime lead and then built up a 10-point lead with 3:55 remaining before the Rebels made their final, futile comeback.
It looked like several times UNL was going to pull another one out of the hat, as they had done two nights ago in a 107-106 thriller against Bradley, But this time it was the younger Redbirds who kept their poise and made all the clutch plays.
With 2:07 remaining, Sam Smith, who scored a game-high 24 points, capped a 10-2 spurt with a layup that pulled UNLV to within 82-80. His basket came after Reggie Theus had forced a turnover on an inbounds play.
Illinois State then connected on a long pass downcourt to a wide open Mayes, who blew the layup.
UNLV couldn’t cash in, however, missing on a shot downcourt and Glen Gondrezick fouled going for the rebound. Yarbrough then hit his two foul shots with 1:22 left for a four-point margin.
Sudden Sam made it a two-point difference again with 1:10 to on a jumper from the free throw line but the Revels were forced to foul Mayes with 35 seconds to go, he calmly hit both free throws.
Another Rebel miss was rebounded by the Redbirds and Ferinas foul shots iced it at 88-82.
The two missed shots down the stretch that UNLV had to make and the fact that Illinois State didn’t let the Rebels get the rebound either time reflected the entire game. UNLV shot only 42 percent from the field.
Taking a hint from what Bradley did, Illinois State threw up the same 1-3-1 zone defense that was even more effective with 7-0 center Jeff Wilkins plugging up the middle and controlling the boards. Wilkins had 14 rebounds (and blocked four shots), Mayes 14 and Yarbrough nine to help Illinois State to a 55-47 edge in rebounding. UNLV, which went on the road trip averaging eight more rebound than its opponents, seldom got a second shot at the basket. Gondrezick, with his second 13-rebound game in a row, and Larry Moffett, with 11 boards, did it all for the Rebels.
Shooting-wise, Eddie Owens again had a hot hand (11 of 22 for 22 points) and Sam Smith was deadly from all over (12 of 21) but that was about it. Gondo continued his shooting slump (four of 10), Theus was cold (four of 16) and Tony Smith missed several poor percentage shots (three of 11). The Rebels didn’t get many shots off in close either.
UNLV was playing its third game on the road in six days and was coming off a hard-fought game in Peoria. That may have had something to do with the team’s 35 percent shooting in the first half compared to ISU’s 58 percent.
The Redbirds cooled off in the second half (44 percent) while the Rebels finally found their touch and hit 51 percent. But Illinois State made up for that by hitting nine of 12 foul shots. The Rebels, who didn’t even attempt a free throw until only 2:14 remained, ended up hitting two of three. UNLV finished with four more field goals.
The Rebels started the second half blazing hot. They came out from intermission and hit their first three shots en route to a 10-2 run that brought them within three. Owens had four of the buckets in that string and his fast break layup with a pass from Theus made it 49-46.
UNLV could come no closer, however, and the Redbirds, behind Mayes and Billy Lewis and Jones, who all scored 20 or more, slowly built their lead back up to nine.
Just when it looked like maybe the Rebels were finished they came alive once more and put on another 10-2 spurt, this time pulling as close as they would ever come, to within 71-70 with 6:30 left.
The Rebels’ pressing defense, handled well most of the game by Mayes and Jones, finally took its toll. Four of the buckets in the streak followed turnovers. For the game, ISU had 23 turnovers to only for the Rebels (just two in the second half).
It looked like UNLV had Illinois State on the run when on consecutive plays, Gondo forced a turnover leading to a basket, the Redbirds threw the ball away on the in bounds play leading to another field goal and then they were called for a three-second violation.
Getting the ball after the three-second call, UNLV had its first chance to go ahead in the ball game. Instead, the Rebels missed their only shot and it was Illinois State that turned the game around with nine unanswered points when UNLV went scoreless for nearly three minutes.
The Redbirds got their points on a jumper from Ferina, a free throw by Lewis and, in one of the game’s key plays, a follow by Yarbrough after Lewis missed the second foul shot. Jones then hit a short bank shot and came right back with another medium-range jumper to make it 80-70 with 3:55 to go.
Illinois State didn’t score anther field goal in the game but it was too big a deficit for UNLV to overcome.
The Rebels now travel to Philadelphia where they end the road trip Saturday against Rutgers in the Spectrum.