Austin Humphreys / The Coloradoan via AP
Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 | 11 p.m.
Losing tests your emotions, and whether it was a postgame tirade heard down the hall or tears pouring from the guy who felt he lost the game — and ignored everything he did to try to win it — the Rebels experienced plenty of them tonight at Moby Arena.
UNLV led by 10 with five and a half minutes to play, by eight with four to go and by five with only 50 seconds left, yet still it managed to lose its fifth game in the last seven. This 66-65 loss snatched from the jaws of victory felt to the Rebels (9-6, 0-2) a lot like last week’s home loss to Fresno State, where kenpom.com had UNLV’s win probability above 90 percent in the final three minutes of what turned out to be a 69-66 defeat.
Put them together and UNLV has its second straight 0-2 start in Mountain West play plus a fifth straight setback at Moby, as sure a sign as any that these issues go back years, not weeks.
“It’s unacceptable. We were in the same exact position the last game and did not get it done. It can’t keep happening,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We’ve got to execute better, we’ve got to count on our guys to make better plays than that. We work on it all the time and it’s gotta be better than that.”
Rice was as agitated after this one as he has ever been after a loss at UNLV, and he could be heard yelling from the visiting locker room of an arena that continues to haunt him. Moby is the only Mountain West arena where Rice hasn’t won, and for the second straight year the loss was by only one point.
“I’m pissed off,” Rice said. “It’s ridiculous because it can’t keep happening. We know what we’re supposed to do and we didn’t do it. Bottom line.”
The Rebels trailed by four at halftime, but after a lackluster opening 25 minutes they sprung to life for a 23-4 run. The catalyst? Mostly it was some high-low offense between junior Ben Carter and freshman Stephen Zimmerman Jr. and then solid one-possession defense and a rebound that set up transition 3-pointers.
“We had our swagger back for a little bit,” Carter said. “We were locked in defensively and on offense we were clicking, we were making extra passes and going to the post.”
Carter led all scorers with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting plus he had 12 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 31 minutes. Carter also had three turnovers and four fouls, and it’s one of each of those in the final minute that had Carter doubled over after the game despite being the one UNLV player that no one would argue gave less than everything he had.
After CSU’s J.D. Paige hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to three in the final minute, Carter threw the ball away on an inbounds pass to McCaw. McCaw had juked to the sideline but didn’t follow through with the move, so Paige took UNLV’s gift and turned it into another bucket with a beautiful floater over Zimmerman, who the Rams were not afraid to attack all night.
Zimmerman missed a front-end on a one-and-one free throw attempt, and then Paige countered with another basket to put Colorado State ahead by two once he converted the and-one attempt. McCaw, who had a quick start and then struggled his way to 4-of-12 shooting and four turnovers in his first game as UNLV’s primary point guard, went straight to the rim and tied the game. But when CSU’s John Gillon bolted down the court in the final seconds, only Carter stood between him and a victory.
“Grabbed his arm. Thought I could get the ball,” said Carter, who was still beating himself up over the play.
Gillon hit his second attempt for the victory, a shot that left the Rebels to again look around at each other trying to figure out how this happened. Carter said a win would solve anything, though from the outside the consistent issues suggest it’s much deeper than a one-game fix.
“Nothing’s wrong in our locker room right now,” Carter said. “Obviously guys hate losing and that’s the only thing that’s wrong.”
The Rebels won the rebounding battle and shot 56 percent in the second half, yet once again good was not good enough. The Rebels’ big run saved them from an outright embarrassment, but it wasn’t there to keep them from completing the fall.
“It comes down to mental toughness,” Rice said. “Mental toughness to make physical plays down the stretch that have to be made to win a college basketball game on the road.”
Whether it was senior Ike Nwamu not going to the floor, Dwayne Morgan’s poor shot selection or Zimmerman’s struggles to hold his own in the post, UNLV fans — especially those who want to see a change in the coaching staff — were on the hunt for examples of guys not “wanting” it. The Rebels provided plenty, and in the process it felt like they flushed away the past week of work.
“I’m freakin’ pissed,” Rice muttered while leaving the media scrum.
From there Rice walked back into the gym that hasn’t so much taken from him as it has accepted and taken advantage of every failing his teams offer.