Thursday, March 8, 2018 | 3:46 p.m.
As far as symbolism goes, Jovan Mooring dribbling out the clock before attempting a long, contested 3-pointer to potentially send UNLV's Mountain West quarterfinal matchup with UNR into overtime was as good as it gets.
As far as winning goes, the final play wasn't as much of a success. Mooring's shot hit the backboard and missed, and UNR hit a couple free throws in the final seconds to seal a 79-74 win, ending UNLV's season.
The Rebels seemed primed for an upset bid early in the second half, as they led by as many as 12 points with 19 minutes to play. But UNR's superior shooting won out — the Wolf Pack made 8-of-13 from 3-point range in the second half to surge ahead and hold the lead down the stretch.
UNR forward Jordan Caroline hit 3 of 4 from long distance and finished with a game-high 21 points, while Kendall Stephens (5 of 10 from 3-point range) scored 15 points.
UNLV forward Shakur Juiston said the Rebels' game plan was focused on limiting 3-point attempts, but UNR was simply too tough to contain.
"They're honestly a great shooting team," Juiston said. "Tonight it was just like, they're going to make some, but we can't hang our head. We've just got to go down there and capitalize on offense and pound them inside and get our scores we need and then come back and try to make them shoot tough 3's again."
UNR swingman Caleb Martin hit a tough, double-clutch 3-pointer to extend the Pack's lead to 71-63 with 3:50 to play, and after UNLV scored four points to trim the margin back to four, UNR guard Hallice Cooke buried a corner 3 to push it back to 74-67 with two minutes remaining.
The Rebels battled back to 74-71 on a Juiston bucket with 48 seconds to play, and after Martin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 from the free-throw line, the stage was set for Mooring.
UNLV was out of timeouts (Menzies mistakenly used the Rebels' final stoppage earlier in the second half), so Mooring dribbled around a couple screens at the top of the key, searching for enough daylight to get off a tying 3-point shot.
It was a very familiar sight for Rebels fans, who have become accustomed to Mooring having the ball in his hands with the game on the line over the last two years. Sometimes he makes the big shot and is hailed as a hero, and other times he misses and is raked over the coals for poor shot selection. On Thursday, with everything in the balance, Mooring missed.
Now the Rebels will face some tough offseason questions, starting with the status of freshman center Brandon McCoy. After the game, McCoy deflected questions about his future when asked if he plans to enter the NBA draft.
"I don't know yet," McCoy said.
McCoy finished his debut campaign as the Rebels' leading scorer and rebounder, and after a season of defensive struggles, he played perhaps his best game on that end of the court today against UNR, as he blocked four shots in 34 minutes.
McCoy also posted 12 points and 14 rebounds, and after the game, he was visibly upset about UNLV's season coming to an end.
When asked if this was the best the Rebels played this season, McCoy said yes, before possibly dropping a hint about which way he might be leaning on that NBA decision.
"I feel like we did leave it all out there," McCoy said. "I think this was the best we could have played, because like I said, we're so talented. Next year."
UNLV's season appeared to be in a nosedive due to an inability to play defense over the final three weeks of the Mountain West schedule, but the Rebels opened up against UNR looking like a completely different team on that end of the court. Menzies had his team in a 2-3 zone for most of the first half, and UNR shot just 11 of 38 from the field (28.9 percent) and made only 4 of 12 from 3-point range as UNLV built a 39-31 lead at the break.
After halftime, the Wolf Pack had more success finding cracks in the zone. Caroline scored 13 of his points in the second half, and UNR shot 66.7 percent (18-of-27) to close out UNLV.
Mooring finished with 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while Juiston posted 14 points and 12 rebounds. Junior Kris Clyburn led the Rebels in scoring with 19 points in 28 minutes off the bench.
Mooring and senior point guard Jordan Johnson will both graduate in the offseason, so Menzies will have to prep an entirely new starting backcourt for the 2018-19 season.
He may also have to find a new starting center if McCoy leaves for the lure of pro ball. If that happens, the 2017-18 season may go down as another great "what if?" season for UNLV basketball.
After the game, McCoy lamented the Rebels' inability to put it all together.
"We're so talented. We could have beat them," McCoy said. "[UNR is] a great team. We played our hearts out, but they won. I just feel like we could have won."