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Rebels top Colorado State on Mbacke Diong putback

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Rebels forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) and Colorado State Rams forward Logan Ryan (21) reach for the ball during a game at Thomas & Mack, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

UNLV beats Colorado State, 78-76

UNLV Rebels forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) and Colorado State Rams forward Logan Ryan (21) reach for the ball during a game at Thomas & Mack, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019. Launch slideshow »

Considering the way the Rebels played for the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds of their 78-76 win over Colorado State on Wednesday, it was only fitting that they won on a missed shot — two missed shots, actually.

UNLV missed 47 of its first 71 attempts against a CSU team that came into the Mountain West opener with one of the lowest-rated defenses in the country. Going into the final play, the Rebels were shooting 33.8 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from the 3-point line. It was ugly.

That’s why UNLV found itself trailing, 71-62, with five minutes to play. But an 11-5 run got the Rebels back into it, and Noah Robotham bounced in a 3-pointer off the front of the rim to tie the game, 76-76, with less than a minute to play.

After the teams traded empty offensive possessions, UNLV held the ball for the final shot. With time winding down, Amauri Hardy drove down the left side of the lane and lofted a scoop shot that rolled off the rim. Joel Ntambwe crashed the boards and tipped the ball back up and off the glass to the opposite side of the paint, where Cheikh Mbacke Diong was waiting to catch it and lay it in for the winning points.

While Diong’s putback circled the rim, Colorado State center Nico Carvacho reached up through the net and knocked the ball out, drawing a goaltending call with 1.2 seconds to play.

Hardy praised his teammates for hitting the boards and fighting for the rebound — and the win.

“That was a great effort by our guys,” Hardy said. “I was looking to attack, maybe finish or get a foul call. Our guys crashed, got a tip-in — game time.”

After a timeout, Colorado State’s desperation inbounds play was stolen by Kris Clyburn as the final buzzer sounded.

On a night when even the Rebels’ game-winner refused to go through the basket, Clyburn credited his team’s defensive intensity for turning the momentum in the final minutes.

“We knew we’d be fine the whole time,” Clyburn said. “Instead of [focusing on] making shots, we just focused in on the defensive end and getting stops. That was one of the main things we needed to do to cut down on the lead. Shots are going to fall at the end of the day, but we just focused on getting stops.”

In the time between UNLV’s back-to-back defeats to close out last week’s Diamond Head Classic (including a 25-point loss to Bucknell) and Wednesday night, Menzies made an adjustment to the starting lineup, inserting Amauri Hardy into the backcourt and moving Mbacke Diong to the bench. With Diong out, Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua moved from power forward to center and Joel Ntambwe moved from small forward to power forward, while Hardy, Robotham and Clyburn formed a three-guard backcourt.

The new lineup made UNLV’s offense more perimeter-based, and for most of the game it looked like a move that was going to backfire as the Rebels shot just 8-of-34 from 3-point range and struggled to contain Carvacho at the other end (28 points, 12-of-16 FGs). But the late rally allowed UNLV to win its Mountain West opener for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Menzies credited Diong for not taking his move to the bench personally and noted that with the game on the line in the final seconds, Diong was on the floor to convert the deciding basket.

"It says a lot to his character," Menzies said. "He's consistently trying to give us everything we ask for, and so tonight we were blessed to get the win."

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

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