Las Vegas Sun reporters Mike Grimala and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's chances the rest of the season. Can the Rebels make a Mountain West tournament run? We also talk about first-year UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo's initial recruiting class.
There are few debates that divide “analytics people” and “basketball people” more than the topic of clutch play. Purists believe some players have a special, unquantifiable “it factor” that helps them come through in big moments, while numbers guys tend to believe there’s no difference between making a shot in the first minute or making a shot in the final minute.
UNLV's Marvin Coleman is giving the skeptics something to think about.
The sophomore guard has been the epitome of “clutch” this season; despite modest overall stats, Coleman has delivered time and time again in important situations, to the point where it has almost become expected.
Coleman’s penchant for the big play was once again on display in Saturday’s contest against Fresno State. Though he hadn’t made a shot from the field all game, he stepped up and connected on a mid-range fadeaway with 0.8 seconds left to give UNLV a 68-67 victory.
That wasn’t the first time Coleman has produced when it mattered most. In the final five minutes of the second half (or overtime) when the score is within five points, Coleman becomes unstoppable — he has made 5-of-7 shots from the field in those situations, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Coleman attributed his success under pressure to the support system around him.
“I think it’s all confidence,” Coleman said. “My teammates and my coaching staff, they put confidence in me every single day with what coach T.J. says about me, how my teammates feel about me and how we’re all together as a group. Anytime I pass up a shot or anything like that, the guys are on me, like, ‘Marv, shoot the ball.’ So I give all the credit to my teammates and coaching staff for putting that confidence in me.”
At Fresno State on Dec. 4, the Rebels were trailing by five points when Coleman hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 33 seconds left, helping UNLV force overtime (the Rebels went on to win, 81-80).
At Wyoming on Jan. 11, Coleman buried a 3 with 1:13 to play to spark another late comeback. He then scored nine points in OT to carry the Rebels to a 78-69 win.
By consistently hitting big shots like that, Coleman seems to be making a believer out of head coach T.J. Otzelberger.
“There’s got to be some truth to certain players stepping up in those moments,” Otzelberger said. “Marvin has done that.”
Coleman has made 34.6 percent from 3-point range on the season, but in close-and-late situations he has drilled 4-of-5 from beyond the arc.
He has also showed poise on the free-throw line. Coleman is an 84.8-percent shooter overall, and in pressure situations he is a perfect 4-of-4.
Coleman said the trick to hitting the big shots is to maintain a level head.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” he said, “especially at the end of the game when they matter. So I look at it the same way, follow through the same way, same routine and everything. And I just shoot the same shot.”
It’s a small sample size — four free throws and seven field goal attempts over the course of an entire season are hardly enough to draw any definitive conclusions — but for now, Coleman is making them when they count. And without his big shots, the Rebels would definitely have fewer wins.