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Rebels survive exhibition scare on Clyburn’s last-second game-winner

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV Rebels guard Kris Clyburn (1) signals a successful basket against Arizona during their NCAA basketball game Saturday, December 2, 2017, at the Thomas & Mack Center In Las Vegas. Arizona won the game 91-88 in overtime.CREDIT: Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

An exhibition game that was supposed to serve as a tune-up for UNLV turned into a battle to the final buzzer, and the Rebels were finally able to exhale when Kris Clyburn’s go-ahead basket with one second remaining gave the team an 83-81 win over Montana State-Billings.

UNLV was pushed to the limit by the Division II Yellowjackets. A driving 3-point play by Brendan Howard tied the game at 81-81 with eight seconds left, and with no timeouts remaining, UNLV inbounded quickly to senior point guard Noah Robotham. Robotham raced up the left side, then executed a dribble handoff to Clyburn, who drove and converted an acrobatic layup with 1.4 on the clock.

Montana State-Billings was not able to get off a final shot, and UNLV coach Marvin Menzies was able to breathe a sigh of relief after escaping with the victory.

“Interesting game,” Menzies said with a chuckle. “It’s always good to get some adversity to deal with. Probably a bit more than I wanted.”

Clyburn finished with an efficient 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He made his only 3-point attempt and hit 4-of-5 from the free-throw line.

The senior swingman was nonchalant about his game-winner.

“We’ve got a set call, it’s called ‘Pistol,’” Clyburn said. “It’s just a little dribble handoff. The big sets the screen. [Montana State] switched; I don’t know what they did. They got stuck, so I had a wide open layup.”

Montana State kept the game close — and even built a 78-74 lead with 2:14 remaining — by outpacing UNLV from the 3-point line. Montana State made 13-of-35 from deep, while UNLV focused its offense inside the arc and settled for 4-of-10 from 3-point range.

Menzies was happy with the Rebels’ 3-point percentage, and he said the team has been shooting well in practice. But he knows UNLV will have to create more open looks when the regular season begins in order to keep up with the competition.  

“I do think the 3-point shooting is something we have to be better than we were last year,” he said. “We have to have more guys shooting it, but we’re going to have to do it by committee.”

Robotham was the top marksman on the night, as he drilled 3-of-5 from outside. The senior finished with a tidy 14 points and four assists in his UNLV debut.

Sophomore Mbacke Diong got the start at center and provided an unexpected source of offense, as he posted 15 points on 7-of-13 from the field. Diong also added 17 rebounds (eight offensive) and two blocks, giving UNLV some hope that the dropoff from Brandon McCoy won’t be so precipitous.

Senior power forward Shakur Juiston had a typically productive outing in the paint, finishing with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting.

The output from the freshman class was disappointing, as Bryce Hamilton, Joel Ntambwe and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua combined for seven points on 3-of-12 shooting.

The Rebels will now have a week to work on their issues before the regular season opens with a home game against Loyola Marymount on Nov. 10.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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