UNLV got three good looks at the rim before the buzzer sounded at New Mexico on Sunday, but all three missed — for varying reasons — and the Rebels dropped their third straight game, 81-80.
New Mexico forward Makuach Maluach hit a 3-pointer to give the Lobos a 1-point lead with 16 seconds to play, and UNLV called timeout with 10.5 second on the clock to draw up a final possession. Senior point guard Jordan Johnson collected the inbound pass, drove the lane and flipped a pass to junior Kris Clyburn, who was wide open for a 3-pointer from the left wing.
That was the Rebels' first opportunity. But Clyburn missed, drawing front iron. When the shot caromed off the backboard and into the lane, UNLV had its second opportunity. Senior shooting guard Jovan Mooring had smartly slipped inside his man to gain rebounding position, and the ball came right to him. But as Mooring lined up his putback, a New Mexico defender nudged him sideways, causing his shot to miss to the left.
UNLV had another attempt just before the buzzer, as junior forward Shakur Juiston tried to tip in Mooring's shot, but Juiston was falling backward along the sideline, making it a high-difficulty attempt. Still, Juiston made a go of it, and the ball circled the rim before falling out as the horn sounded.
Three shots for a win — one missed, one voided by a non-call, and one so close the Rebels could almost taste a victory — and all missed.
UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies said the final play went according to script, except for the fact that the Rebels couldn't get the ball to go in.
"We drew up what happened," Menzies said. "Didn't get the ball to go down. I thought we had a great offensive rebound effort. May have been some contact on that putback effort, but wasn't called."
It was a brutal end for the Rebels, who trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half before scratching their way to a lead in the final seconds. Johnson carried the team as they struggled to keep pace in the first half and finished with a game-high 25 points and nine assists. Juiston pumped in 18 points and 13 rebounds, and Brandon McCoy posted 15 points and eight rebounds despite playing just 23 minutes due to foul trouble.
Mooring also played through foul trouble, as he picked up his fourth personal early in the second half and finished with a season-low 24 minutes. But he came up big down the stretch, and he gave UNLV a 2-point lead with 30 seconds left by making 2-of-3 free throws after drawing a foul on a 3-point attempt with the game tied, 88-88.
On New Mexico's next possession, guard Antino Jackson drove the right side of the lane and threw a kick-out pass to Maluach at the top of the key. Maluach, who came into the game as a 47.4-percent 3-point shooter, buried the shot over Juiston's outstretched arm to put the Lobos back in front and set up UNLV's frenzied final possession.
Maluach finished with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Anthony Mathis led the Lobos with 18 points, while Sam Logwood chipped in 17.
UNLV looked much improved from its previous two games, blowout losses at the hands of San Diego State and Fresno State. The Rebels shot 56.0 percent in the second half (48.3 percent for the game) and trimmed their turnovers to 11, but they just couldn't get the final shot to fall.
Menzies praised his team for pushing its way back into the game down the stretch.
"Like I told the guys, they got better tonight," he said. "They fought hard, and our young'uns are learning that life in the Mountain West is not a low-major conference. It was nice to see them fight back."
UNLV drops to 19-10 with the loss, and the Rebels are now 8-8 in Mountain West play. That puts them in seventh place, a game behind San Diego State and Wyoming (both 9-7 in conference) for fifth.
That placement is noteworthy, as the top five teams in the Mountain West standings receive a bye on the first day of the conference tournament, while the bottom six face off in a round-robin play-in bracket.