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Live blog: UNLV holds off Illinois, 89-82

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L.E. Baskow

UNLV’s forward Brandon McCoy (44) dunks the ball over Illinois during their game at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Updated Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017 | 11:24 p.m.

Jovan Mooring hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the final three minutes, and UNLV held on for an 89-82 win over Illinois at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Mooring finished with a game-high 27 points, with a large chunk of them coming from the free-throw line in what turned into a very physical contest down the stretch. The senior guard made 14-of-18 from the line and 5-of-10 from the field.

Brandon McCoy had another superlative outing, posting 22 points and 10 rebounds in 36 tough minutes.

UNLV improves to 8-2 on the season, and more importantly, the Rebels secured a key win over a quality non-conference opponent. Illinois is now 7-4 on the year.

Rebels lead Illinois 71-68 in closing minutes

This game hasn't gotten any prettier, but UNLV is finding a way to hang on. With 3:42 remaining, the Rebels have a 71-68 lead with Jordan Johnson set to shoot a pair of free throws after a timeout.

UNLV is shooting just 43.8 percent in the second half, and Illinois has been just as bad at 43.3 percent. One Illinois player has already fouled out, and four others have four fouls. UNLV forward Shakur Juiston also has four fouls. That should tell you how the second half has been played.

Jordan Johnson's 3-pointer with 4:34 to play extended UNLV's lead to 71-65, but Illinois guard Mark Smith answered immediately with a 3 of his own to cut the deficit in half.

Brandon McCoy has a game-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and the Rebels have done a nice job of creating open looks for him around the basket. If Illinois surrounds him in the closing minutes, however, the Rebels may have to make an outside shot or two. As a team, UNLV is just 2-of-9 from 3-point range on the night.

UNLV, Illinois tied with 11 minutes remaining

Midway through the second half, this game is turning into a battle of wills.

UNLV and Illinois are tied, 54-54, with 11:50 to play, and the tougher team will probably end up winning this one. The second half has featured extremely physical play from both teams; Shakur Juiston is on the bench with four fouls, and UNLV is in the double bonus the rest of the way.

Back-to-back charge calls on Amauri Hardy and Tervell Beck wiped a couple of layups off the board for the Rebels, but Jovan Mooring is doing what he can to keep the offense on track by driving to the rim and drawing fouls. He's got a team-high 16 points, with nine of his points coming from the free-throw line (9-of-12).

UNLV pulls ahead for 45-36 halftime lead over Illinois

UNLV closed the first half on a 16-5 run, and the Rebels have taken a 45-36 lead into the locker room at halftime.

The Rebels held a double-digit lead for much of the first half, but a late 12-0 run by Illinois closed the gap and even gave the Illini a 31-29 lead. But Brandon McCoy scored three buckets in the final five minutes to power UNLV to its halftime lead.

McCoy has a game-high 15 points and five rebounds, while guard Jovan Mooring has 14 points on 3-of-6 shooting.

Trent Frazier paced Illinois with 12 first-half points. Illini forward Kipper Nichols has four points and seven rebounds.

UNLV will have to deal with Shakur Juiston's foul situation over the final 20 minutes. Juiston has three personals and was limited to 10 minutes in the first half.

Illinois surges, Rebels regain lead late in first half

UNLV went through a four-minute scoring drought that led to a 12-0 run by Illinois, but it looks like the Rebels have righted the ship. With 3:55 left in the first half, UNLV has a 35-31 lead.

Illinois guard Trent Frazier got hot during the run, and he's got 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting. A Kipper Nichols layup with six minutes left in the half gave Illinois a 31-29 lead, but UNLV has responded since that bucket.

UNLV finally broke through the Illinois zone defense by finding Brandon McCoy underneath for a layup, and the Rebels have reeled off the game's last six points.

Jovan Mooring leads UNLV with 12 points, while McCoy has nine and Shakur Juiston has eight. Juiston picked up his third foul with six minutes to play and has been on the bench since.

UNLV builds early 23-13 lead over Illinois

UNLV has gotten off to a strong start, building a 23-13 lead over Illinois midway through the first half.

The Rebels' trio of Chicago natives have done most of the damage so far. Brandon McCoy dunked on each of UNLV's first two possessions, Jovan Mooring has 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting, and Jordan Johnson has done a good job of pushing the pace early. The three have combined for 19 of UNLV's 23 points.

Illinois has already turned the ball over four times, and the Illini are 1-of-5 from 3-point range.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. Illinois

UNLV has one more chance to add another quality non-conference win, and it comes tonight against Illinois (7-3, No. 97 KenPom rating) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Will the Rebels seize the opportunity and bolster their resume?

Three keys for UNLV:

Run and gun

Much like Arizona last week, Illinois is a team that won’t try to slow down UNLV’s pace. The Illini rank No. 18 nationally in possessions per game (UNLV is No. 8), so this figures to be a high-tempo affair. Junior 6-foot-10 big man Michael Finke is actually Illinois’ best offensive threat in the open court (1.13 points per possession in transition), so keying on him will be an important defensive assignment. UNLV center Brandon McCoy will have his conditioning tested as he tries to mark Finke in transition.

Pressure point

Under new head coach Brad Underwood, Illinois plays up on the ball and tries to create havoc on the defensive end. So far this season, the Illini have been great at it; they force turnovers on 23.4 percent of possessions, according to Synergy Sports data, and they rank third in total turnovers. Because that’s been a weak spot for UNLV at times — the Rebels committed 37 TO’s in back-to-back losses to Northern Iowa and Arizona — it will be important for guards Jordan Johnson (3.2 turnovers per game), Jovan Mooring (1.8) and Kris Clyburn (1.1) to be strong on the ball and not give away possessions.

Rebounding margin

Illinois is committed to offensive rebounding, with six players averaging at least one per game. Together, the Illini rank 18th overall in offensive boards. McCoy, Shakur Juiston and the rest of the UNLV frontcourt will have to be vigilant with their box-outs, or Illinois will score enough second-chance points to hang around in this game — or even win it.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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