Eric Draper / AP
Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 | 9:25 p.m.
UNLV scored its best win of the season on Tuesday, as the Rebels went into "The Pit" and used a strong second half to defeat New Mexico, 71-66.
Jovan Mooring got his first start of the season at point guard and turned in another tremendous effort, totaling 19 points, six assists and five steals while powering the Rebels down the stretch.
UNLV opened the second half with a 9-0 run to claim a 40-37 lead, and the two teams stayed within arm’s reach of each other the rest of the way. Jalen Poyser hit a big 3-pointer to tie the score, 64-64, with 3:31 remaining, and then Mooring took over.
On New Mexico’s ensuing possession, Mooring stripped forward Tim Williams and raced the length of the court for a breakaway layup, drawing a foul in the process. He hit the free throw to put UNLV up, 67-64.
After New Mexico came up empty on offense again, Mooring ran a pick-and-roll with big man Cheickna Dembele and slipped a pass to the freshman, who converted the layup to make it 69-64 with 1:33 to play.
A Jalen Harris layup drew New Mexico within 69-66 with less than a minute to play, and the Lobos had the ball and a chance to tie late, but Elijah Brown missed a corner 3 with less than five seconds on the clock. Christian Jones grabbed the defensive rebound and hit two free throws to seal UNLV’s most impressive victory to date under first-year coach Marvin Menzies.
“It’s a good win for us,” Mooring said. “Tonight we followed the game plan and it worked.”
Senior guard Uche Ofoegbu also came up big for the Rebels, posting 14 points, eight rebounds and four steals in 35 minutes. Dembele chipped in eight points, four rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes.
“This was a big win,” Ofoegbu said. “We talked about how we’ve been in games and we’ve let it go at the end. Coach challenged us to get a win on the road, and we pulled it out together.”
Menzies made a change to the starting lineup before the game, subbing out sophomore wing Kris Clyburn and senior forward Tyrell Green. Mooring and Dembele started in their place, and the shakeup seemed to work for the Rebels, especially when they opened the second half by outscoring New Mexico, 13-2.
Mooring and the rest of the Rebels had success driving all night, as New Mexico failed to contain dribble penetration. In the first half, UNM center Obij Aget cleaned up the mistakes, tallying seven blocks, but UNLV made an adjustment at halftime and Mooring was able to exploit the Lobos to great success in the second half.
“It seemed like they struggled to guard the bounce a little bit,” Mooring said. “We knew that if we got into the paint, we could make plays. Early on in the game a couple of us got into the paint, but we weren’t making the extra pass like we were supposed to…but we moved the ball a lot more throughout the game, and that resulted in us getting good shots.”
Defensively, UNLV keyed on the Lobos’ high-scoring tandem of Brown and Williams. The duo came into the game averaging 17.9 free-throw attempts between them, and UNM was second in the nation in free throws per game at 28.7. The Rebels limited Williams to two free throws, while Brown got to the line for just five attempts. New Mexico finished just 14-of-17 from the line as a team.
Williams in particular had a tough time making an impact. He came in averaging 19.1 points per game, but UNLV made a concerted effort to make him work for his touches. Dembele, Christian Jones and various double-teaming guards did a good job of closing down passing lanes and keeping Williams from getting the ball in his customary spot in the post.
Williams finished with 11 points on just eight field goal attempts. He made a jumper with 11:23 remaining and then didn’t attempt another shot the rest of the way.
“I don’t think we took him out of it,” Menzies said. “I think we limited his touches. The guy was 5-for-8 on the shots that he got — he’s a phenomenal player. One of our goals was to try to obviously keep the ball out of his hands as much as we can.”
Poyser finished with 10 points, and though he made just 2-of-13 from the field, he came up with the big 3-pointer late in the second half and also handed out five assists (with one turnover). Jones put up a line of nine points and eight rebounds.
The win could not have come at a better time or in a more satisfactory manner for the Rebels, who carried a frustrating two-game losing streak into The Pit. After getting blown out by Boise State at home in a non-competitive game, the Rebels played better at Utah State but were blown out down the stretch in a 79-63 loss that dropped them to 1-3 in Mountain West play.
Now UNLV is back to .500 overall (9-9) and a somewhat respectable 2-3 in league play, and they did it by out-executing a rival down the stretch, on the road in front of 11,379 mostly hostile fans.
“One thing these guys can hang their hat on is they’ve really stayed together through some adversity,” Menzies said. "[They] just have hung in there through it all, and every once in a while when you do the right thing, you get the verdict you’ve been working for.”
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