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Seniors, Mooring come through in long-awaited UNLV win

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Steve Marcus

UNLV’s Uche Ofoegbu (2) shoots against Utah State’s Jalen Moore (14) as the Rebels play the Utah State Aggies at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Wednesday, March 1, 2017.

UNLV tops Utah State

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Up until the final minute, Wednesday’s contest against Utah State looked just like a lot of the other installments during UNLV’s nine-game losing streak. The Rebels had played a back-and-forth affair and were locked in a one-possession game with 30 seconds to play, and junior guard Jovan Mooring was in the midst of launching a long (and potentially decisive) 3-pointer.

Over the past month, Rebels fans have been conditioned to see that shot bounce out and Utah State score at the other end to ensure another heartbreaking loss for Marvin Menzies’ crew.

But this time, Mooring’s shot went in, and UNLV held on for a 66-59 victory, snapping the losing streak and giving the team some kind of momentum heading into the final week of the season.

Mooring played hero down the stretch, scoring the Rebels' final six points (and eight of the last 10), but fittingly it was the team’s seniors who did the heavy lifting on Senior Night. Tyrell Green posted 19 points and 12 rebounds, Christian Jones went for 16 and 12 and Uche Ofoegbu chipped in 11 points, and they all went out with a win in their final home game at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“It felt good getting a win in our last home game,” Green said, “but more importantly we’re just happy that we were fighting all night. We didn’t quit. We got the win, so we just have to have carryover going into the next game and for the [conference] tournament.”

For one dark stretch, it looked like the Rebels were going to let this game slip away as so many others had over the last five weeks. After Green hit a 3-pointer to give UNLV a 54-47 lead with 10:33 remaining, Utah State went on a 9-0 run — fueled by three UNLV turnovers — to go ahead, 56-54 with 8:13 to play.

UNLV had been switching between man and zone defense for most of the game, but at that point, Menzies called timeout to settle his troops and ask them a very important question.

“I asked them in the timeout, I said, ‘Do you guys want to go man or zone?’” Menzies said. “And they said ‘Man.’ I said, ‘Ok, if you want to go man, you better own it. You need to sit down and get in a stance and get in your shell principles and talk and jump to the ball and get in the gaps and early stunt. Because I don’t want you to tell me that’s what you want to play just because you happened to get some stops out of it. You’ve got to want to play it the way it’s supposed to be played.’ And they did a great job.”

With the Rebels playing man-to-man defense, Utah State didn’t score another field goal over the final eight minutes, missing their final nine shots and managing just three free throws.

That defensive stand opened the door for Mooring to take over. With UNLV ahead, 61-59, and less than a minute remaining, Jones intercepted an inbound pass and raced the other way. With a USU defender challenging, Jones missed a hard dunk attempt, but the rebound ricocheted out to halfcourt and into Mooring’s hands.

UNLV ran the clock down, and Mooring fired up a 3 from the left wing. When it fell through the net, the Rebels had a five-point lead with 33 seconds to play.

Jalen Moore missed a quick 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, and Mooring dove to the floor, scrambling to secure the loose rebound.

Though he finished 3-of-12 from the field, Mooring did manage to hand out five assists and draw a couple of charges in addition to hitting the biggest shot of the game.

“You know, that’s Jojo, man,” Menzies said. “Jojo’s going to be feast or famine, and that’s who we’re rolling with right now. He’s got some good film to learn off this game, because he wasn’t very good offensively at times. Defensively, either. But when you need him to make a big one, he made it. And that’s a kid that you’re OK with taking that shot.”

For the game, UNLV shot 43.1 percent, and the defense held Utah State — the Mountain West’s best outside shooting team — to 40.0 percent.

The send-off victory clearly held a lot of meaning for the seniors.

“It means a lot, especially for the seniors,” Jones said. “The whole team was stressing that we needed to get this win for the seniors, and that’s what we did. We played for that whole 40 minutes instead of just one half. We played for both halves, and that’s what got us the win.”

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