Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017 | 9:20 p.m.
If you had told Marvin Menzies at halftime — when his listless Rebels were trailing Wyoming by 18 points — that UNLV would have a chance to win Wednesday’s game on a Jovan Mooring 3-pointer at the buzzer, the coach may have been inclined to live or die with that scenario, especially considering the way Mooring’s heroics helped the Rebels to a double-overtime triumph over Air Force four days ago.
But after Mooring’s potential hero shot bounced off the rim and Wyoming walked off with a 66-65 victory, Menzies was left wanting just a little bit more.
Trailing by one point, UNLV was set to inbound with 6.1 seconds on the clock. Menzies drew up a play for Mooring to catch the ball in the backcourt and dribble the length of the floor, with the intention of driving to the basket for a layup or a kick-out pass to an open shooter, likely forward Christian Jones on the baseline.
But instead of driving, Mooring pulled up for a long, contested 3-pointer, and the Rebels’ epic second-half comeback was for naught.
Menzies said after the game that his instructions on the final play were clear.
“Go to the rim,” Menzies said. “Which is what you’re supposed to do when you’re down one. You’ve got to get something going to the basket. You don’t want to stop and take a 28-foot, 3-point shot when you have a lane to get to the basket.”
Mooring finished with a team-high 15 points, including 13 in the second half as he helped power the Rebels’ comeback. And it was Mooring who hit a deep, NBA-range 3 to finally pull UNLV even at 59-59 with 4:33 to play. But the junior guard was left questioning his decision to let it fly from deep as the final horn sounded.
“I was confident with the shot,” Mooring said, “but I think I could have gotten a better shot. I think I could have gotten closer to the rim and gotten a higher percentage shot.”
Mooring said he read his defender, and when he felt Wyoming guard Justin James backing off, he decided to pull the trigger early.
“It was kind of like he was playing me for the drive. I felt him retreating, like he was three or four steps off me. So I just rose up and shot it.”
The fact that UNLV even had a chance to steal the game was a credit to Mooring’s second-half performance, as well as that of freshman guard Zion Morgan.
The Rebels stumbled through an ice-cold first half that saw them make just 28.1 percent of their shots (9-of-32) as Wyoming built a 41-23 lead. At that point, Menzies called Morgan’s number, inserting him at the beginning of the second half in place of regular starter Jalen Poyser, who went 0-of-6 in the first half.
Morgan responded by playing tenacious defense, hitting a couple 3-pointers and even grabbing a handful of offensive rebounds, helping UNLV claw back within three points at 59-56 with five minutes to play.
Then Mooring stepped into a 24-foot 3-pointer to tie the game, Tyrell Green hit a free throw, and Jones finished an inside layup to give UNLV a 62-59 lead with 3:12 to play.
James came up big down the stretch for Wyoming, as he converted an and-1 layup to tie the game with 1:32 to play. After an Uche Ofoegbu turnover, James swished a 17-footer from the left wing to give Wyoming a 66-64 lead.
Mooring was fouled on UNLV’s ensuing possession and made just 1-of-2 — a recurring issue, as the Rebels combined to go 2-of-6 from the line in the final four minutes. With 39 seconds to play, Wyoming ran the clock down before working the ball inside to James for a turnaround jump hook in the lane. James missed, Cheickna Dembele grabbed the rebound, and UNLV called timeout, setting up Mooring’s final shot.
Though he wished for a higher-percentage shot on the final play, in the end Menzies deferred to Mooring’s judgment.
“If he felt like he didn’t have time, I’ve got to go back and look at the film,” Menzies said. “I don’t want to be too hard on the kid, because he played a good second half.”
UNLV ended up shooting 48.4 percent in the second half. Jones finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Morgan totaled 12 points and six rebounds (four offensive).
James scored 14 for Wyoming, while Hayden Dalton posted 15 points and 10 rebounds.
UNLV could have moved to .500 in Mountain West play with a win, but instead the Rebels drop to 10-11 on the season and 3-5 in league play.
Menzies was visibly disappointed after the game, but the first-year coach tried to minimize the impact the loss would have on his team.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “You try not to get wrapped up in the standings because we’ve got 10 games to play, but it is what it is.”