Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018 | 5:33 p.m.
The Rebels trailed, 74-72, when Mooring ran through a series of screens before emerging wide open for a 3-pointer on the left wing. UNLV was on a 7-0 run, and a make by Mooring would have given the Rebels the lead and all the momentum.
Mooring missed. But much like the entire Rebels team on Saturday, he stuck with it. After helping to force a turnover on Colorado State's ensuing possession, he was fouled and made both free throws to tie the game. A minute later, Mooring dribbled into another open 3 and buried the make-up shot to put UNLV ahead, 77-74, with 28 seconds to play.
After a defensive stop fueled by freshman center Mbacke Diong and a couple tack-on free throws, the Rebels were unlikely 79-74 winners.
UNLV closed the game on a 14-0 run, with Mooring and Diong serving as the catalysts at each end of the court. Mooring scored seven of the Rebels' 14 points during their frantic run, while Diong played superb defense in the middle over the final three-plus minutes.
After looking lethargic for the first 36 minutes and allowing Colorado State to build a 74-65 lead, Mooring said the Rebels discovered a simple solution for turning the game around.
"They were outworking us," Mooring said. "They were getting all the loose balls, all the 50/50 balls, and we knew that we eventually had to pick it up, because it was the small things in this game that were making the difference."
After forcing just four turnovers over the first 36 minutes, UNLV harassed Colorado State into three in the final four minutes, and Diong was a huge part of that effort. The 6-foot-11 pogo stick checked in for freshman center Brandon McCoy with 3:08 remaining and played the rest of the way. During that closing span, Colorado State was held scoreless while missing all four of its shots.
After Mooring's go-ahead 3, Colorado State called timeout with 16 seconds remaining to set up a play. Diong found himself locked on CSU big man Nico Carvacho at the top of the key, and when Carvacho couldn't find an open teammate to take the ball from him, he squared up for a 3 himself.
Diong contested the attempt, the shot missed, and point guard Jordan Johnson dribbled out most of the clock before he was fouled.
Diong credited the coaching staff with preparing him for the final defensive possession.
"The [scouting report] told us he was not going to shoot a 3, so that's why I backed up," Diong said. "He was looking for a pass, and the guards did a great job by denying. That's why I just stood back and challenged the shot."
Diong finished with zero points, three rebounds, one block and one steal in 14 minutes, but once again his impact was felt beyond his stat line. While he was in the game, UNLV outscored Colorado State by eight points.
Mooring finished with 17 points — all in the second half — and also contributed four assists and two steals.
The Rebels had a tough time getting in gear in the first half. Colorado State effectively slowed the pace, which may have been by design, as the Rams were without injured leading scorer Prentiss Nixon. UNLV scored zero transition points in the period and only hung around thanks to the hot touch of junior forward Shakur Juiston, who scored 14 points on 7-of-7 shooting.
Juiston's impeccable aim allowed UNLV to go into halftime tied at 36-36, but Colorado State played with more energy in the second half, and when guard Raquan Mitchell (17 points) scored on a backdoor layup to give the Rams a 74-65 lead with 3:48 to play, it looked like UNLV was finished.
Mooring found Johnson for a corner 3 on the next possession, however, and Kris Clyburn made two free throws with 2:52 left to make it a 74-70 game. A driving, left-handed layup from Mooring made it 74-72, setting up his big miss the next time down the floor and his eventual game winner.
A week after hitting a game-sealing 3-pointer at Air Force, Mooring confirmed the obvious and said he is comfortable in late-game situations.
"It's never me feeling like I have to take it upon myself," Mooring said. "But I have a group of guys that trust me with the ball in those situations, and they know I want the ball in those situations. But we have multiple guys that can make those types of plays, so it's just all about making plays for the team."
Juiston finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Johnson scored 14 points and handed out four assists.
UNLV improved to 14-5 on the season and 3-3 in Mountain West play. Oddly enough, all three of the Rebels' conference wins have come on the road, while they are 0-3 at home. The next game on the schedule is a road contest at Fresno State on Tuesday.
UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies downplayed the idea that Saturday's win could have a galvanizing effect on the team going forward.
"Can't get too high with the highs, can't get too low with the lows," Menzies said. "We've just got to take this victory and get to work and get ready for Fresno on Tuesday."