Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 | 10:10 p.m.
Things looked to be going UNLV’s way late in Wednesday’s home game against New Mexico. A second-half surge saw the Rebels build a 67-56 lead with 6:48 to play, and Jordan Johnson hit a 3-pointer with five minutes left to extend UNLV’s streak of consecutive games with a triple to 1,024, calming the nerves of everyone in attendance.
A second straight Mountain West win seemed to be secured. But games can turn quickly — especially when the defensive game plan falls apart.
New Mexico scored a whopping 29 points over the final 6:22 — including a 9-0 run to close the game — to stun UNLV, 85-81.
The big shot came from New Mexico guard Anthony Mathis, who buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 11 seconds left to give the Lobos an 83-81 lead. UNLV point guard Jordan Johnson took the ball out of bounds on the ensuing possession and dribbled the length of the floor, but his runner from the right baseline missed, allowing UNM to grab the rebound and finish things off from the free-throw line.
New Mexico shot 47.1 percent in the second half, including 8-of-17 from 3-point range. The Lobos made eight of their final 10 shots.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies seemed perplexed by the defensive breakdown.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to get stops in winning time,” Menzies said. “Putting guys on the free-throw line and fouling and missing defensive assignments will cost you a game, and that’s what happened.”
The Rebels appeared to make a costly error on New Mexico’s go-ahead possession. Mathis possessed the ball at the top of the key before passing to Antino Jackson on the right wing. UNLV guard Jovan Mooring had been tasked with defending Mathis, but he abandoned his assignment to double-team Jackson on the catch.
That allowed Jackson to easily swing the ball back to Mathis — a 46.2-percent 3-point shooter coming into the game — for an open look. Mathis swished it.
After the game, Menzies was brief when asked whether Mooring was supposed to leave Mathis to double-team the ball.
“No,” Menzies said. “That wasn’t the plan. Next question.”
When asked a follow-up question about the play, Menzies said Mooring’s gambit didn’t cost UNLV the game.
“He wasn’t supposed to run over there,” Menzies said. “He has no freedom [to double-team on his own] … There’s rules and there’s shell principles and there’s a scouting report, and he had a brain fart. He had a miscue. I don’t know what to tell you. He’s a good player and he made a mistake. That was one play. There were several plays that led to the loss.”
Johnson’s mad dash to try to tie the game came up short, but the Rebels wouldn’t have been in position to win if it hadn’t been for his late-game heroics. Johnson scored 14 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, and he also handed out five assists.
Johnson also made UNLV’s first 3-pointer of the night, which drew an eruption from the crowd of 10,546. The Rebels had missed their first eight 3-point attempts over the first 35 minutes, and the home faithful were getting anxious about preserving the streak.
Johnson said the streak wasn’t on his mind when he stepped into his open catch-and-shoot attempt from the left wing.
“I wasn’t searching for a 3, it was just wide open and I shot it,” Johnson said. “I knew I heard people yelling ‘Need a 3, need a 3, need a 3!’ But I wasn’t really paying attention.”
UNLV finished 2-of-13 from beyond the arc, while New Mexico connected on 10-of-26 from deep. The Lobos made their final four 3-point shots.
Mathis scored 14 points and finished 3-of-9 from long distance. Lobos forward Makuach Maluach posted 19 points in 19 minutes before fouling out.
Mooring had his second straight strong shooting game, as he tallied 18 points on 6-of-12 from the field. Freshman big man Mbacke Diong provided a boost off the bench with nine points, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals in 16 minutes.
UNLV is now 13-5 on the season and 2-3 in Mountain West play. The Rebels have dropped all three home games in conference.