The Runnin' Rebels live to fight another day, thanks to some timely defense from freshman center Brandon McCoy.
McCoy blocked two key shots in overtime, and UNLV outscored Air Force 21-14 in the extra period to secure a 97-90 win over Air Force in the play-in round of the Mountain West tournament.
McCoy finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks, while frontcourt partner Shakur Juiston posted 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
The Rebels advance to play in-state rival UNR on Thursday. The last time the teams met, UNR won a 101-75 blowout at the Thomas & Mack Center on Feb. 28.
UNLV, Air Force headed to overtime
UNLV and Air Force are headed to overtime, tied 76-76.
Jordan Johnson missed a free throw that would have given UNLV a four-point lead with 33 seconds to play, and Air Force tied the game on a Frank Toohey 3-point play with 24 seconds left. Toohey was fouled on a layup attempt and Brandon McCoy was called for goaltending.
On UNLV's final possession, Johnson was stuffed on a drive and passed to Jovan Mooring, who missed a desperation jumper at the buzzer.
UNLV leads Air Force in final minute
With 51 seconds to play, UNLV has a 75-73 lead, but Air Force will have the ball after the timeout.
Kris Clyburn made a key steal from behind to break up an Air Force fast break with the score tied, 73-73, and Jordan Johnson hit Shakur Juiston inside for a dunk on the next possession to give UNLV the lead.
Now Air Force will have a chance to tie again or take the lead. The Falcons have hit 12-of-22 from 3-point range so far today.
UNLV clinging to late lead over Air Force
Just when it looked like UNLV was carving out some breathing room, Air Force has hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the Rebels' lead to 71-69 with 3:41 to play.
Jacob Van hit the first 3 to make it 71-66, and after a miss from Kris Clyburn on the other end, Lavelle Scottie buried a triple from the top of the key while being fouled by Brandon McCoy. Scottie will shoot the and-1 free throw after the timeout.
Rebels holding on in second half, lead 50-46
UNLV had pushed its lead as high as 11 points, but a 7-0 run by Air Force has trimmed the margin to 50-46 with 11:40 to play.
Air Force is 2-of-4 from 3-point range in the half, and an uncontested layup by Caleb Morris prompted Marvin Menzies to call timeout to try to stop the bleeding.
The Rebels have committed four turnovers in the second half already, bringing their total to 12 for the game. Air Force has capitalized by scoring 11 points off turnovers.
UNLV senior guard Jovan Mooring appeared to injure his left hand early in the half, and he went to the bench and wrapped the hand in a towel for a few minutes, but he has checked back in and is running point for the Rebels while Jordan Johnson gets a breather.
UNLV leads Air Force at half, 37-33
UNLV has a 37-33 lead over Air Force at halftime, and it doesn't look like AFA is going to make this easy for the Rebels.
The Falcons dictated tempo in the first half (just 34 possessions for each team), and they made 5-of-13 from 3-point range. That's why UNLV has been unable to build a bigger lead despite shooting an efficient 46.7 percent from the field.
Brandon McCoy scored nine points in the half on 4-of-7 shooting, while Jovan Mooring (nine points) made consecutive jumpers late in the half to break out of his shooting slump.
Caleb Morris and Lavelle Scottie have scored nine apiece for Air Force.
UNLV leads Air Force 31-28
With 2:40 left in the first half, UNLV has a 31-28 lead over Air Force, but there are reasons for the Rebels to be worried.
The biggest issue has been 3-point defense. Though it was an emphasis in practice leading up to this game, the Rebels have allowed AFA to make 5-of-11 from long distance so far. Caleb Morris is 2-of-2, and Jacob Van is 1-of-3.
Offensively, Brandon McCoy is pacing UNLV with seven points on 3-of-6 shooting. Jovan Mooring has started out cold again, shooting 0-of-3 from the field and 0-of-2 from the 3-point line. Mooring has gotten to the line and is 5-of-5 on free throws.
UNLV opens early lead over Air Force
For a UNLV team that may have been in need of a confidence boost after losing five straight games, the opening minutes of this contest could not have gone much better. The Rebels have played solid defense, and with 10:59 left in the first half, they've got a 17-13 lead over Air Force.
Brandon McCoy is leading the way with five points, and his defensive engagement has been much improved. As a team, UNLV is focusing on defending the 3-point line, but Air Force is 3-of-8 so far, so the Rebels will need to clean that up.
Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. Air Force
Before the season began, UNLV did not expect to be in action today, in the play-in round of the Mountain West tournament (11 a.m., streaming on Stadium Network). But a precipitous five-game losing streak has left the No. 8-seeded Rebels (19-12, 8-10 MWC) fighting to stay alive against No. 9 Air Force (12-18, 6-12).
All things considered, this is not a bad matchup for UNLV. The Rebels swept AFA in the regular season, though both games were close, and they have a distinct size advantage in the frontcourt. That's probably why UNLV opened as a 9-point favorite, though as the last five games have proven, having the better team on paper doesn't always translate to wins on the court.
A win would give UNLV a quarterfinal matchup against UNR on Thursday, and the Rebels would surely love another shot at their in-state rivals. Can the Rebels take care of Air Force for a third time and extend their season by another day? Three keys to watch:
Play good defense
South Carolina Upstate had the worst defense in the nation this season — ranked 351st out of 351 Division I teams — at 1.055 points per possession allowed. During their five-game losing streak, the Runnin' Rebels have allowed their opponents to score 1.189 points per possession. That's how bad UNLV's defense has been over last three weeks, and if it doesn't improve dramatically today, Air Force will win. Easily. It's as simple as that.
After Tuesday's practice, UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said the Rebels have not been doing a good enough job of covering the 3-point line, and the statistics back up that assessment. During the losing streak, opponents have made 49 combined 3-pointers at a rate of 45.4 percent. The Rebels are not a 3-point shooting team themselves (17 makes at 22.7 percent during the streak), so it's nearly impossible for them to keep up when opponents are bombing away like that.
The Rebels will have to close out on Air Force's 3-point threats, particularly Ryan Swan-Ford (41.3 percent), Trevor Lyons (37.5 percent) and Sid Tomes (35.2 percent). If the Falcons make double-digit 3-pointers and get over 80 points for the game, UNLV's season could very well end today.
Because teams have been scoring so easily against the Rebels, UNLV has been forced to take the ball out from under the basket fart too often, which has stymied their transition offense. The Rebels are at their best when running the floor and getting early offense from their big men, and that will be the case today against Air Force. If UNLV walks the ball up the court and is dragged into a halfcourt rock fight against Air Force's zone defense, scoring efficiently could become an issue.
Point guard Jordan Johnson will have to be on his game today, especially when it comes to managing tempo. Johnson has to get the Rebels into their offense as quickly as possible and find Brandon McCoy and Shakur Juiston for easy baskets before AFA can set its defense.
As covered above, UNLV is not a 3-point shooting team. The Rebels rank 328th nationally in 3-point attempts, and 266th in accuracy, so they can't count on winning a shootout. But they do need production from the one volume 3-point shooter on the roster — senior guard Jovan Mooring.
Mooring's two-year career at UNLV has been marked by ridiculous hot streaks and icy cold streaks, and his shooting touch has been absolutely frosty of late. Over the last five games he has made just 22.3 percent of his long-range attempts, including a 1-of-14 skid over the last two games. But Mooring is confident that he could break out at any moment and give the Rebels the outside shooting threat the team will need in the tournament, and his coach agreed.
"I think we all know Jojo can be streaky," Menzies said. "It's been a long streak, but he's been pretty good in practice. The ball has been going down at a pretty high rate. I think you can always regain your confidence when you see that ball going through the hoop."