Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018 | 9 p.m.
As Noah Robotham lined up a potential game-winning 3-point shot with time running out against BYU, he wasn’t thinking about all the shots he has missed this season.
Robotham came into Saturday’s contest at T-Mobile Arena just 10-of-42 from 3-point range, but being ever the analytical type, he was too busy processing information to worry about his shooting percentages. Through careful video study, he knew his defender’s tendencies, and he used that knowledge to create just enough space to launch a 3-pointer as the clock struck zero.
When it splashed through as the buzzer sounded, UNLV had a 92-90 overtime win and Robotham had a pile of teammates celebrating on top of him.
Robotham’s heroics saved UNLV from a potentially devastating loss, as the Rebels blew a 17-point halftime lead and looked to be on their way to a fourth consecutive defeat right up until the last second. The final possession wasn’t pretty — Robotham and sophomore guard Amauri Hardy played hot potato without much effect — but Robotham finally caught a pass from Hardy, took one dribble backward and gave UNLV the victory with a high-arching shot that drew nothing but net.
It was a big shot for Robotham, a local product who transferred home to UNLV — and paid his own way — to serve as a leader during his fifth-year senior season. His always-reliable shooting stroke had abandoned him for the first eight games, but that was the furthest thing from his mind as he sized up BYU guard T.J. Haws on the final play.
Haws appeared to have good defensive position, but Robotham got off a clean look and made it count.
Robotham said his scouting prep made the shot possible.
“I watched a lot of [Haws’} clips and the way he defends,” Robotham said. “When he defends he’s not really going for blocked shots, just for a hand to kind of be there. So I felt comfortable if I could get in the gap and get my space, I felt pretty confident in my shot.”
Robotham finished 4-of-8 from 3-point range and has now made six of his last 12 long-range shots.
Uncharacteristically good outside shooting allowed UNLV to build a 47-30 lead at the half, as the Rebels played small for the first 20 minutes (due to an injury that sidelined senior power forward Shakur Juiston) and connected on 9-of-16 from the arc. BYU closed the gap after halftime, using a zone defense to stifle UNLV’s attack.
Jahshire Hardnett’s driving 3-point play gave the Cougars an 83-81 lead with 2:22 to play, and after the teams traded several scoreless possessions, freshman Joel Ntambwe sank a pair of clutch free throws with 27 seconds left to tie the game at 83-83. BYU’s final possession came up empty, sending the game to OT.
Two free throws by Hardy gave UNLV an 89-88 lead with 37 seconds left, but Hardnett struck again, this time sneaking free for a layup to put BYU ahead, 90—89, with 18 seconds left.
Head coach Marvin Menzies called timeout to draw up a final play, but there were no openings in the BYU defense. Hardy and Robotham passed the ball between them twice before Robotham was forced to let it fly.
Robotham finished with 12 points, four assists and three steals in 33 minutes. Ntambwe set a new career high for the second straight game by totaling 22 points, and Hardy and Kris Clyburn scored 21 apiece.
UNLV is now 5-4, with a trip to Hawaii for the Diamondhead Classic next on the schedule.
Now that his shooting slump appears to be over, Robotham is hopeful he’ll stay locked in for the rest of the season.
“I’m confident when it comes to shooting,” Robotham said. “I think if you shoot the ball, you can’t even think about the last shot. I have amnesia out there. Sometimes I may take a bad one because I don’t even think about it, but yeah, it feels good moving forward.”
Juiston's future uncertain
Shakur Juiston was held out of the game due to a knee injury suffered last week against Illinois, and after the game Menzies said it could potentially be a season-ending situation.
Menzies said he doesn't know if it can be cured with rest and rehab, or if the senior would have to undergo surgery in order to correct the issue. If surgery is the only route, it would sideline Juiston for the rest of the year. Menzies said he and Juiston will consult with team doctors and Juiston's family before deciding on a course of action.
Because Juiston has played in less than 30 percent of UNLV's games for the season, he would be eligible for a medical redshirt and could return for the 2019-20 season. Juiston is averaging 10.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.