Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017 | 7:34 p.m.
UNLV should have lost Saturday’s game against Air Force on nine separate occasions, but luckily for the Rebels, they somehow managed to win it back 10 times. In the end, it added up to one crazy, 87-85 double-overtime victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Jovan Mooring was the hero for the Rebels, as the junior guard poured in 30 points and buried two huge 3-pointers down the stretch.
The game was not cleanly played. Both teams shot horrifically from the field (combined 35.7 percent), from the 3-point line (34.3 percent) and from the free-throw line (61.7 percent), but when it came down to what Marvin Menzies likes to call “winning time,” neither side could miss.
Mooring needed a lot of luck to provide the initial heroics. UNLV appeared to be dead in the water toward the end of regulation, trailing by three points with less than five seconds to play and Jalen Poyser headed to the free-throw line. Poyser missed the first, then missed the second intentionally to give his teammates a chance for an offensive rebound. While the Rebels couldn’t get a hand on the ball, two Air Force players fumbled the rebound between them and knocked it out of bounds, giving UNLV one more chance with 2.6 seconds to play.
Menzies tabbed walk-on guard Larry Bush —who hadn’t appeared in the game at all to that point — as the inbound passer. Bush lobbed the ball to Mooring at the top of the key, and Mooring took two quick dribbles to his left before launching an off-balance 3-pointer. The shot was off-line, but it banked in as time expired to send the game to overtime, 58-58.
“The play wasn’t originally for me,” Mooring said. “But once I got it, I knew we had to get a shot. I was lucky enough for it to go off the backboard, but I’ll take it anytime.”
The Rebels’ good fortune extended through the first overtime period. Tyrell Green hit a 3-pointer to give UNLV a 65-64 lead with 1:51 to play, and Christian Jones converted inside to tie things at 67-67 with a minute remaining. After the Rebels got a defensive stop, Menzies elected not to call timeout, putting the ball in Mooring’s hands once again with the game on the line.
Mooring dribbled the clock down inside five seconds, then pulled up for a long 3-pointer — he was so far from the basket, both of his feet were planted on the “U” in the “UNLV” halfcourt logo — and swished it.
It looked like UNLV had secured the unlikely victory until Air Force conjured up a little magic of its own. With 3.6 seconds on the clock, the Falcons inbounded to guard Jacob Van, who raced the length of the court down the right sideline before tossing up a twisting, running shot at the buzzer. Like Mooring’s miracle shot a few minutes earlier, Van’s prayer banked in to force a second overtime.
In a game full of ups and downs, Van’s shot could have sucked the life out of the UNLV sideline. Instead, the Rebels regrouped and took control in the second OT period.
Mooring said the Rebels tried to take a leveled approach to Van’s equalizer.
“Another five minutes,” Mooring said. “It was good that no one got down on it, because they could have easily taken all the momentum into the second overtime and finished the game, but we did a really good job of taking the momentum our way.”
Mooring hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to give UNLV a 75-71 lead a minute into double overtime. With 1:21 remaining, Poyser capped a 5-0 run with a slicing layup to push UNLV’s lead to 80-73.
From that point on, it was a matter of making free throws. Mooring hit four down the stretch, including a pair with three seconds remaining that put UNLV up, 87-82. It was a good thing he made them, because Van pulled off a replay of his earlier shot, banking in another 3 at the buzzer.
Van’s shot didn’t hurt the second time around, however, and the Rebels came out with a hard-fought win.
After the game, Menzies was hopeful that the dramatic victory would have a positive impact on his players going forward.
“I think everybody knows how tough it is to play Air Force,” Menzies said. “We all know how gritty they are and how experienced this team is. I hope that [our guys] understand, this is a good win. I don’t care where you play them — home, away, wherever — it’s a good win if you can gut one out against a team that’s so disciplined and experienced.”
Mooring finished with seven 3-pointers, six assists and five rebounds in a game-high 44 minutes. Jones added 15 points, and Kris Clyburn provided some punch off the bench with six points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
Air Force forward Hayden Graham scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds before fouling out in overtime. Van finished with 17 points and four assists.
UNLV is now 10-10 on the season and 3-4 in Mountain West play. The Rebels are set to hit the road next week, with games at Wyoming on Wednesday and at San Jose State on Saturday.