Friday, Dec. 22, 2017 | 10:26 p.m.
UNLV probably didn’t deserve to win Friday’s non-conference finale against Northern Colorado. But the Rebels had Jovan Mooring and Shakur Juiston, and so they did.
Mooring and Juiston caught fire late and combined to score 55 points on 20-of-30 shooting, and their late-game heroics carried UNLV to a 94-91 comeback victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels had to reach deep into their bag of tricks in order to come out on top against a scrappy, determined Northern Colorado squad. The Rebels trailed, 84-76, with 4:28 remaining, but Mooring and Juiston took over from there, teaming up to score UNLV’s final 18 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer by Mooring with 2:09 remaining.
The Rebels finished the game on an 18-7 run to steal the win.
UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies said Mooring and Juiston made all the right plays down the stretch.
“I thought those guys were pretty cerebral and pretty focused on trying to do the right things in winning time,” Menzies said. “So that made the difference.”
It was a game UNLV probably should have lost. Northern Colorado was undersized, with just one starter taller than 6-foot-5, but they out-worked the Rebels for much of the contest. By spreading the floor and crashing the boards, the Bears were able to rack up 21 offensive rebounds and 28 second-chance points.
It was an offensive rebound and putback by Jalen Sanders (15 points, nine rebounds) that put Northern Colorado up by eight with 4:28 to play. Juiston drove inside for a layup to cut it to 84-78, and after a defensive stop (actually two defensive stops, as UNCO got an offensive rebound but missed the follow), Mooring penetrated for a floater to make it a four-point game.
Mooring then came up with a steal and raced the length of the floor, finishing through contact to earn an and-1 free throw. He sank the foul shot to draw UNLV within 84-83 with 3:03 to play.
Sanders and Juiston traded inside baskets, and UNLV regained possession down by a single point with just over two minutes to play. Mooring dribbled around a screen, pulled up from the top of the key and buried a long 3-pointer to give UNLV an 88-86 lead.
Mooring may be the Rebels’ designated late-game finisher, but he said he wasn’t looking to play hero when he drained his clutch 3.
“It wasn’t necessarily about putting [the game] on my shoulders,” Mooring said. “It was just trying to make a play for the team. I saw an open look and I rose up and shot it.”
And while Menzies may not always agree with Mooring’s ambition and shot selection late in games, he wasn’t surprised by his senior captain’s willingness to take (and make) the big shot.
“That’s just who he is, man,” Menzies said. “You guys know he has a lot of confidence, and he plays that way.”
Northern Colorado turned it over on the ensuing possession, and Juiston tipped in his own miss to extend UNLV’s lead to 90-86 with 1:42 to play. Juiston and Mooring made free throws the rest of the way to account for the final margin.
When the final buzzer sounded, Juiston had a career-high 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting, while Mooring had an ultra-efficient 25 points on 7-of-12 from the field.
Freshman center Brandon McCoy battled foul trouble for most of the game and ended up with a quiet 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Northern Colorado guard Jordan Davis proved to be a tough cover for the Rebels, as he tallied 28 points on 12-of-25 shooting. The 6-foot-2 Las Vegas native also pulled down three offensive rebounds, making him one of six Bears to grab more than one offensive board.
Northern Colorado’s strategy of spreading the floor and chasing rebounds with quickness actually worked to perfection against the much bigger UNLV frontcourt.
“Honestly they were just out-energizing us,” Juiston said. “It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to get the rebound, they were just getting a lot of loose balls. They were crashing the boards — like four people crashing the boards and one person was getting back. They were everywhere, so if it bounced off the wrong way, they were in the right position at the right time.”
The easy second-chance putbacks allowed Northern Colorado to match UNLV’s interior production, as both teams finished with 56 points in the paint.
In the end, the tandem of Mooring and Juiston was enough to overcome that.
UNLV wraps up the non-conference schedule with a record of 11-2, matching the team’s win total for all of last year (11-21). The Rebels will have a week off before Boise State visits for the Mountain West opener on Dec. 30.
Because of Mooring and Juiston, the Rebels will head into Mountain West play on a five-game winning streak.
Mooring said the Rebels did what they had to do when it counted to get the win.
“In Division I basketball, any given night can be about a game of runs,” Mooring said. “They’re a really unique team with five guys on the floor at all times that can spread the floor, so they had a lot of driving opportunities. We just had to do a better job down the stretch of defending, and I think we got the stops when we needed them most.”