Mike Grimala, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss UNLV's 6-0 start to the basketball season, and debate whether the Rebels' 5-7 football season can be considered progress.
Almost nothing went right for UNLV on Wednesday night. The Rebels couldn’t shoot straight, couldn’t hold onto the ball and couldn’t defend up to their standards. And yet, they were one play away from leaving Northern Iowa’s home gym with a larcenous win.
That’s what made the eventual 77-68 overtime loss really sting.
The Rebels surrendered a three-point lead in the final minute, thanks in large part to a brutal foul call on Jovan Mooring, and UNLV was summarily outscored 16-7 in the overtime period. When it was over, the Rebels were left to process how it slipped away so quickly after they had spent so long digging and clawing to take the lead.
“[Northern Iowa] is a good team,” junior forward Shakur Juiston said. “We were both competing. We both fought. At the end of the day, they just fought a little harder. They wanted it a little bit more. Not too much more, but a little bit more, and they came out with the win.”
UNLV was close to bagging its most impressive win of the season despite playing its worst game by far. The Rebels committed 20 turnovers — mostly unforced — and persevered through cold shooting nights for senior guards Mooring (3-of-17) and Jordan Johnson (2-of-12). On the defensive end, freshman center Brandon McCoy and Juiston struggled to contain UNI’s big-man tandem of Bennett Koch (30 points) and Klint Carlson (23 points).
Despite everything that went wrong, however, a pair of Johnson free throws gave UNLV its first lead of the second half, 56-55, with 6:19 to play. After two minutes of scoreless basketball, Mooring finally connected on a 3-pointer to put UNLV ahead, 59-55, with 3:46 to play.
UNLV’s final field goal of regulation came on a Kris Clyburn hustle layup with 1:14 remaining, which gave the Rebels a 61-58 lead. Northern Iowa isolated Koch on McCoy in the post on the next trip down the floor, and the senior delivered, scoring on a short jumper to make it 61-60.
UNLV’s next possession ended with a Juiston turnover, and that’s when the game’s key sequence occurred. Northern Iowa picked up the loose ball and threw it ahead to Koch in the frontcourt in transition. Koch dribbled into the paint, where Mooring was waiting to cut him off. Koch flung a wild kick-out pass to the wing, but the ball sailed over the head of UNI guard Spencer Haldeman and into the stands.
But instead of a turnover that could have potentially sealed the game for UNLV, the baseline referee called Mooring for a blocking foul, despite the fact that Mooring appeared to be set to draw a charge, and the fact that the contact occurred well after Koch let go of the pass.
Koch was awarded two free throws with 16 seconds to play and made one, tying the game.
Mooring, who leads UNLV with five charges drawn this season, believed he was in position to win the game with a good defensive play.
“I saw the big dribbling the ball in transition and I saw him coming full speed, so I was trying to get a charge,” Mooring said. “Thought I was there. Unfortunately, the call didn’t go my way. It is what it is.”
Marvin Menzies said the call wasn’t the main factor in UNLV losing the game and gave the officials the benefit of the doubt.
“I didn’t even see it, [the call] was so far away from the play,” Menzies said. “I guess Jovan must have slid in his way after he made the pass. I mean, those guys are good officials, so if it was a charge, or if it was a block it probably was a block. I’m not going to comment on that because I didn’t see it.”
UNLV had a final chance to win in regulation after Koch’s tying free throw, but the Rebels came up empty. Menzies opted not to call his final timeout, and Johnson dribbled into the paint for a short floater as the clock wound down. His shot rimmed out, and the Rebels were dragged into overtime.
After 40 minutes of battling against Northern Iowa’s physical defense and deliberate offense, UNLV clearly tired in the extra period. McCoy and Juiston played the final 12:43 of regulation — their longest stretches of the season — and Johnson logged 43 minutes on the night.
“I think fatigue kicked in a little bit,” Menzies said. “It was just a battle of wills down the stretch, and they had a little more pop left at home than we did.”
Northern Iowa made 4-of-6 field goals in overtime, while UNLV converted on just 3-of-9. In the end, it added up to a tough road loss and the Rebels’ first blemish of the season.
“I thought we played a really good team on their home floor and battled them to the end,” Menzies said. “We had our chances, but tonight wasn’t the night.”
Clyburn led UNLV with 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting. For the game, the Rebels made just 40.9 percent from the field (27-of-66), while Northern Iowa hit on 41.9 percent (26-of-62). UNI won the turnover margin, 20-9.
Mooring, who went 2-of-10 from 3-point range, said he and his teammates will put this loss behind them quickly. And with Arizona coming to the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, they’ll have to.
“We’ll probably never see this team again, so it’s nothing to think about,” Mooring said. “You lose one, it’s on to the next one. It’s part of the game. I don’t remember a team going undefeated.”