UNLV made a frantic charge in the final two minutes, but Jordan Johnson's potential game-tying shot was blocked with 15 seconds to play and the travel-weary Rebels fell at Fresno State, 69-63 on Tuesday.
Fresno State led 65-57 with less than 90 seconds to play when Johnson took over. He drove the lane and converted inside while drawing a foul, and his free throw cut the deficit to five. After a Fresno State miss at the other end, Johnson raced the length of the floor and finished through contact again, with his second straight 3-point play pulling UNLV within 65-63.
After UNLV gave a foul on the defensive end, Fresno State guard Deshon Taylor missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 18 seconds to play. Shakur Juiston pulled down the rebound and shoveled it to Johnson, who quickly pushed the ball up the right sideline and drove baseline.
Johnson got into the paint, but the 5-foot-9 guard had his shot rejected by Fresno State forward Terrell Carter. Brandon McCoy grabbed the loose ball, but his floater bounced off the rim and Carter controlled the rebound. Carter sank both free throws with four seconds to play and UNLV's attempt at a second straight comeback win was finished.
Although UNLV had a timeout remaining after Taylor's missed free throw, head coach Marvin Menzies decided to let the final possession play out with the ball in Johnson's hands.
"We got a call in [from the sideline], so we were good," Menzies said. "We had a shake screen set for him high so he could get to the rim. We thought [Carter] would come up and defend the screen a little bit, but he laid back and it was one of those deals where Jordy had to make a split-second decision and thought he could get all the way in and maybe draw contact and wasn't able to do it. Unfortunately it was one of those game-ending shots that didn't go down."
It was a bitter end for the Rebels, who slogged through a travel nightmare in the 24 hours leading up to game time. The team's Monday evening charter flight to Fresno was postponed by mechanical issues, so they weren't able to fly in until Tuesday morning. That left the team with no time for a pre-game shootaround session, as is the norm.
The Rebels may have felt the effect of the transportation difficulties in the first half, as they shot 41.7 percent and scored just seven points over the final 9:44 heading into the break.
"It's one of those games where you really feel bad for the guys," Menzies said. "I thought that they played their hearts out, and with all of the hiccups in travel, they didn't even think about it. They just went after it and did what they could to try and get a win today, and it didn't work in our favor."
Interior defense was a problem for the Rebels, as Carter out-physicaled just about every UNLV big man on his way to 18 points, six rebounds and two blocks. Forward Bryson Williams also burned UNLV to the tune of 20 points. The Fresno frontcourt duo combined to make 18-of-26 shots from the field.
Menzies went to big lineups in the second half, playing 6-foot-8 Tervell Beck at small forward, and that helped some. Beck scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, and UNLV outscored Fresno State by eight points in the 21 minutes he was on the floor.
Menzies thought the defensive effort was good enough to win but that the Rebels' early offensive struggles tilted the court too far in Fresno's favor.
"I did feel like we played better defensively for sure," Menzies said. "I felt like we were engaged defensively and we played harder defensively. Now on the flip side, shots that we normally make just weren't falling. I thought we had some pretty good looks."
Johnson finished with a team-high 18 points, McCoy contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Jovan Mooring scored 10 points.
UNLV had been perfect on the road in Mountain West play, but the loss at Fresno drops the Rebels to 3-4 in the league and 14-6 overall.