Rebels shoot their way out of trouble in 81-76 win at Air Force

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Dougal Brownlie / The Gazette via AP

UNLV guard Amauri Hardy (3) goes for a 3-point basket against Air Force at the Air Force Academy, Colo., Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018.

Wed, Jan 10, 2018 (10:10 p.m.)

Jovan Mooring knows there’s only one way to bust out of a shooting slump. So after making just 5-of-29 from the field in UNLV’s first three Mountain West games, the super-confident senior decided to shoot his way out of it.

Mooring locked himself inside UNLV’s practice facility on Sunday — less than 24 hours after a woeful 2-of-13 showing in a loss to Utah State — and shot. And shot. And shot. By the time he was finished, he had made 2,000 shots over a span of four hours.

And it seemed to do the trick, as Mooring had his best game in weeks, scoring 15 points and hitting the biggest shot of the night in a hard-fought 81-76 win at Air Force on Wednesday.

Mooring credited his marathon shooting session for getting him back on track.

“I had to put in the extra work,” Mooring said. “If you go in a slump and the shot’s not falling, you’ve got to put in more work. I made 2,000 shots the day after Saturday’s game, so it’s just about doing what I can to improve.”

Mooring was 5-of-10 from the field against Air Force, and as usual, he found himself with the ball in his hands on the game’s most important possession. With the Rebels clinging to a 78-76 lead with less than 20 seconds to play, Mooring dribbled down the shot clock before pulling up for a long 3-pointer from the right wing. The shot was true, and UNLV improved to 13-4 on the season and 2-2 in Mountain West play.

Senior point guard Jordan Johnson said he never gave a second thought to Mooring’s slump and that the Rebels are always confident that he will come through in big situations.

“He’s the best shooter,” Johnson said. “The best shooter in the world. Let him shoot it.”

If it weren’t for Johnson’s own late-game heroics, Mooring may not have been in position to ice it. First, Johnson hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer to give UNLV a 71-68 lead with 4:24 to play. Then he hit a leaner in the paint to make it 73-69. On the next possession, he assisted Kris Clyburn on a baseline cut for a layup to make it 75-70.

Johnson capped off his run by sinking a pair of free throws to push UNLV’s lead to 77-70 with 1:12 to play. Air Force scored the next five points on a Lavelle Scottie 3-pointer and a Pervis Louder layup to trim the lead to 2 and set the stage for Mooring’s shot.

That’s the kind of leadership head coach Marvin Menzies expects from his backcourt of fifth-year seniors.

“Obviously you hope for your senior leadership to be something you can depend on,” Menzies said. “Players have got to make plays. Jojo hit a big 3 … and then Jordy was fantastic at operating against that zone. Their zone is very tricky to play against, and he did a phenomenal job of getting it inside-out.”

UNLV sliced through Air Force’s zone defense for the entire 40 minutes, shooting 63.0 percent for the game and scoring 1.174 points per possession. Air Force was able to hang around thanks to second-chance points, however, as they outscored UNLV 19-2 on the offensive glass.

The Rebels got only eight points from leading scorer Brandon McCoy (3-of-4 shooting) and three points from Shakur Juiston, but freshman forward Tervell Beck picked up the slack with 12 points off the bench on 5-of-5 shooting. Clyburn chipped in 17 points on 7-of-10 from the field.

Although the Rebels shot the lights out and held Air Force to 41.0 percent from the field, Menzies was most excited about his team’s effort level, which had wavered in the first three Mountain West games.

Against Air Force, the Rebels played hard for 40 minutes.

“I’m proud of the guys’ energy,” Menzies said. “Really impressed with our effort. Lot of things to clean up, lot of things to work on. That can’t be the mantra after every single game, because you’ve got to start to become more of a well-oiled machine. But I do think the thing that was lacking the last couple games was that pop, that Runnin’ Rebel pride, and the energy that’s necessary to don this uniform. And I think we had it tonight.”

While the outcome may have been in doubt up until Mooring’s shot in the final seconds, the Rebels will take the win any way they can get it, especially after Saturday’s disappointing home loss to Utah State.

“This is a big win for us,” Johnson said. “We lost [against Utah State], it was a bad game. We played bad. This is a good one. Come back, bounce back, good 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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