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Live blog: Rebels surge past Air Force, 77-72

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) chats with Joel Ntambwe (24) prior to the start of a game against UNR at Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 | 9:32 p.m.

Noah Robotham came up clutch, connecting on a pair of free throws to give UNLV the lead in the final minute, and the Rebels held on for a 77-72 win over Air Force. 

Robotham stepped to the line with 29 seconds remaining and his team trailing, 72-71. He calmly drained both, and UNLV's defense did the rest, stifling AFA on the final two possessions to seal the victory. 

Robotham finished with 12 points, and Amauri Hardy led UNLV with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. The Rebels shot 50 percent from the field as a team (29-of-50). 

UNLV improves to 7-5 in Mountain West play and 13-11 overall on the season. 

Amauri Hardy gives UNLV 69-62 lead over Air Force

UNLV has created a little breathing room, and with 3:49 to play, the Rebels are protecting a 69-62 lead.

Consecutive 3-pointers from Nick Blair and Noah Robotham gave UNLV a 67-61 advantage, and after an Air Force free throw, Amauri Hardy drove the lane and banked in a floater to make it a seven-point lead.

Hardy now has a game-high 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

The Rebels have gotten a tremendous defensive effort from Mbacke Diong, who has eight rebounds, two blocks and a steal. Diong's fourth foul sent him to the bench a few minutes ago, but he should be subbing back in after the under-4 media timeout. UNLV is a +17 in Diong's 27 minutes, the best plus/minus rating on the team.

UNLV takes second-half lead over Air Force

With 11:11 remaining in the second half, UNLV is nursing a 56-54 lead over Air Force.

The Rebels have good fortune to thank for their current 10-4 spurt, as Air Force has missed some wide open shots in the last two minutes. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Kris Clyburn and Bryce Hamilton gave UNLV a 52-50 lead, and after a pair of AFA buckets, Clyburn made a driving layup and Nick Blair hit a short jump hook to make it 56-54.

Air Force isn't having any difficulty with the UNLV defense. The Rebels switched to a zone scheme for a few possessions, and Air Force worked it for an open layup. For the game, AFA is shooting 52.3 percent.

UNLV is being led by Amauri Hardy, who has 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting.

Air Force leads UNLV at half, 40-36

The Rebels are having a hard time defending this Air Force team, though it's not nearly as bad as the first meeting. At the half, AFA has a 40-36 lead.

Air Force has made 17-of-32 from the field so far (53.1 percent), led by Lavelle Scottie (12 points) and Ryan Swan (10). The Falcons have made 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, and they outscored UNLV on points in the paint, 22-18.

As we've grown accustomed to, UNLV is hanging around thanks to an efficient offensive performance. The Rebels are hitting at a 48.5-percent clip, led by Amauri Hardy's 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

If the Rebels are going to make a push in the second half, it will probably have to start on the defensive end. Mbacke Diong has made a difference on that end; after missing the first meeting with an ankle injury, he's got six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 14 minutes.

Hamilton, Hardy push UNLV to 31-28 lead over Air Force

UNLV has scored the last seven points to take a 31-28 lead over Air Force with 3:33 left in the half.

Freshman Bryce Hamilton made a long 3-pointer to start the run. Mbacke Diong then blocked an Air Force shot right into the hands of Amauri Hardy, and Hardy dribbled the length of the floor for a layup. Hamilton then knocked in a baseline jumper to make it 31-28.

Hardy now leads the Rebels with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting.

UNLV, Air Force tied early

Midway through the first half UNLV and Air Force are tied, 20-20, and that's probably fine by the Rebels.

The last time these teams met, Air Force ran the Rebels off the floor. And UNLV has proven to be a terrible first-half team so far this season. So fighting through all of that and staying even through the first 11 minutes is a result Marvin Menzies will probably take.

Amauri Hardy has five points for the Rebels, while Air Force's duo of Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan has combined for 15 points.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. Air Force

Coming off an 18-point home loss against Fresno State, the Rebels find themselves sporting a 6-5 record in conference play and needing a win over Air Force on Tuesday to stay above .500.

Can UNLV take care of business at the Thomas & Mack Center (7:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network)? Three keys:

Defend Swan

UNLV got roasted on the defensive end in its last meeting with Air Force, a 106-88 blowout that saw the Falcons shoot a ridiculous 59.7 percent from the field. The Rebels’ biggest issue in that game was junior Ryan Swan, as the hybrid forward torched every defender assigned to him and finished with 22 points on 8-of-14 from the field.

Nick Blair had no chance at slowing down Swan the first time around, so expect UNLV to avoid that matchup at all costs. Unfortunately for the Rebels, there isn’t anyone on the roster with the physical profile to stick with Swan. Marvin Menzies will have to get creative.

Limit dribble penetration

In addition to Swan having his way with his defender, the Falcons also used dribble penetration to carve up the UNLV defense in the Jan. 16 game. That allowed AFA to win the points-in-the-paint battle by a margin of 56-29. If that happens again, UNLV has no chance of taking this game.

Share the ball

Offensively, UNLV has been clicking for a while now. Menzies and senior point guard Noah Robotham have attributed it to an emphasis on sharing the ball, and the Rebels would be well-served to keep it up tonight. In the first meeting against Air Force, UNLV recorded 15 assists on 30 made field goals. That ratio is good, not great. Air Force can be exposed on the defensive end — the unit is ranked No. 218 by KenPom.com — so look for the Rebels to make the extra pass in search of easy baskets.

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

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