Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017 | 9:52 p.m.
It would be a bit overdramatic to say UNLV escaped with an 81-76 road win at Pacific on Saturday. The game was never as close as the final score, and at no point in the second half were the Rebels in danger of losing.
But they never slammed the door shut on an inferior Pacific team, either, committing a bushel of turnovers in the final minutes that kept the Tigers alive. And that had senior point guard Jordan Johnson rankled when he met with the media after the game.
“We have a bad taste in our mouth,” Johnson said, “because we had too many turnovers at the end of the game, and we should have executed better than we did.”
Johnson was a driving force for UNLV, scoring a team-high 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Though his five turnovers were indicative of the Rebels’ loose ball-handling (19 turnovers as a team), he provided timely scoring and some key defensive plays to help UNLV improve to 9-2 on the season.
Head coach Marvin Menzies praised Johnson for his play and his intangible contributions.
“He kind of gives you what you need as a fifth-year senior,” Menzies said. “He understands the ebbs and flows of the game, and so he’s able to make the adjustments on the floor, especially when he’s away from the bench at times and I can’t get the message across. I thought he did a really good job from a leadership standpoint tonight.”
UNLV sliced up Pacific’s zone defense in the first half, shooting 57.7 percent to build a commanding 45-31 lead at the break. Separate runs of 9-0 and 13-0 made it clear that the Rebels were on another level, but Pacific was still able to hang around in the second half.
UNLV’s defensive intensity appeared to wane midway through the second half. Pacific converted five straight dunks or layups at one point, resulting in a 13-6 run that closed the Rebels’ lead to 63-54 with 8:32 to play.
It was a 69-61 game with less than six minutes to play when Johnson hit a pair of free throws to give UNLV some breathing room. A minute later, he swished a jumper from the baseline to keep the lead at 10 points.
Johnson, who had been in a shooting slump over the last four games (5-of-27 FGs, 18.5 percent), said he didn’t hesitate when big-shot opportunities presented themselves.
“I just took what the other team gave me,” he said. “They were leaving me wide open, so I just took the shot. I have confidence in myself to make that shot.”
Pacific didn’t slink away, however. A quick 6-0 run in the final minute (aided by two sloppy UNLV turnovers, including one on an inbound pass that led directly to a 3-pointer for Pacific guard Kendall Small) made it 79-74 with 11 seconds to play, but Jovan Mooring was fouled and sank both free throws to finally seal the win.
UNLV shot just 43.5 percent in the second half and committed 10 turnovers during that span, but Menzies was happy to come away with a road win under any circumstances.
“It’s encouraging to get a win when things aren’t going well,” Menzies said. “I’m glad that the guys played so well in the first half, maybe in the first 24, 25 minutes, and gave us enough of a cushion so we could kind of orchestrate the end of the game. I didn’t want to have 19 turnovers doing it and didn’t want to give up 13 offensive rebounds, but fortunately those are statistics that we have the opportunity to clean up going forward without taking the loss.”
Freshman center Brandon McCoy notched his eighth double-double of the season with 21 points and 13 rebounds, while junior forward Shakur Juiston posted 13 points and nine boards. Mooring finished with 12 points and four assists.
Pacific guard Roberto Gallinat gave UNLV some problems, as the athletic guard scored 20 points on 8-of-18 shooting. Small chipped in 18 points.
UNLV will head back to Las Vegas to play its final two non-conference games, against Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday and against Northern Colorado on Friday.