Bryce Dejean-Jones had just set a career-high for the second straight game, scoring 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go along with six assists and three rebounds. But it was two points the 6-foot-5 junior didn’t get that were on his mind when he took the podium after UNLV’s 75-68 loss to Air Force on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Falcons held a 69-68 lead when Dejean-Jones went to the free throw line for two shots with 20.2 seconds remaining. He missed both.
Kamryn Williams then put the finishing touches on a huge Mountain West conference road win for Air Force (8-5, 2-0), scoring six points on four free throws and a rebound basket, and the Rebels (10-5, 1-1) dropped their fourth home game of the season.
(Check out BARRY WONG’s VIDEO highlight package BELOW)
“I missed two free throws that probably could have changed the outcome of the game,” Dejean-Jones said. “Never know what would have happened if I made those two free throws.”
UNLV coach Dave Rice refused to pin the blame on his star guard, who almost single-handily kept his team in it until the end on a night when the team’s dynamic front line duo of Khem Birch (8) and Roscoe Smith (4) combined for a total of 12 points.
“Those free throws didn’t cost us the game,” Rice said. “The hole we dug ourselves in the first half is what cost us the game.”
That hole – UNLV trailed by as many as 10 points en route to a 41-32 halftime deficit – was caused in large part by defensive lapses that saw the Falcons drive off the dribble or backdoor the Rebels for 11 first half layups.
Air Force, which added seven more layups in the second half, finished with a 36-24 advantage in points in the paint and shot 51.9 percent from the floor.
“It’s hard to simulate the speed of their cuts,” Rice said of preparing for the Falcons’ Princeton style offense. “We got lost on a number of assignments.”
The Rebels also didn’t do themselves any favors at the free throw line, sinking just 14-of-23 attempts (60.9 percent), including 7-of-13 by Dejean-Jones.
Still, UNLV rallied to take a 56-55 lead on a short jumper by Jelan Kendrick with 9:45 remaining. The game see-sawed back and forth after that until guard Tre’ Coggins, who finished with 20 points, put Air Force ahead to stay, 69-68, with – what else? — a driving layup past Deville Smith and Birch with 36.3 seconds left.
“A very tough and very disappointing loss for our team,” Rice said. “We were coming in with a lot of momentum.”
UNLV had won seven straight since a 63-58 loss on Dec. 7 at unbeaten Arizona (15-0), which likely will be No. 1 for a fifth consecutive week when the polls are released on Monday.
The Runnin’ Rebels, who opened Mountain West play on New Year’s Day with a solid 75-62 victory at Fresno State, now host in-state rival and Mountain West co-leader Nevada (7-8, 2-0), a 61-58 winner over Wyoming earlier Saturday in Reno, on Wednesday night at 6:15 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.
To hear more from Rice, Dejean-Jones and Rebel guard Kevin Olekaibe, who finished with 13 points and three 3-pointers, check out the VIDEOS below.
(UNLV Coach Dave Rice press conference)
(Bryce Dejean-Jones, Kevin Olekaibe press conference)