FORT WORTH — UNLV coach Dave Rice didn’t mince words.
“It’s painful. It’s disappointing. Nineteen offensive rebounds. Horrible effort on the defensive boards,” Rice said after the 11th-ranked Runnin’ Rebels (22-5, 6-3) blew an 18-point lead in the final 15 minutes of a 101-97 overtime loss to TCU (15-10, 5-4) at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum on Tuesday night.
The loss knocked UNLV out of a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West with San Diego State (20-4, 6-2) and New Mexico (20-4, 6-2), who play Wednesday night at Viejas Arena, and probably puts Saturday morning’s nationally-televised game with the red-hot Lobos at The Pit in the “must-win” category if the Rebels want to have a legitimate shot at winning the MWC’s regular season title.
TCU, behind a career-high 32 points (8 of 12 3-pointers) by senior guard Hank Thorns, used a 24-9 run over the final 9:36 of regulation to force overtime at 87-87. The Rebels failed to score on their final three possessions of regulation, including turnovers by both Mike Moser (22 points, 8 rebounds) and Oscar Bellfield (16 points, 5 assists) in the final 45 seconds as they were stripped while trying to drive to the basket.
Thorns, a Valley High product and the son of a former Rebel football player, scored eight of his points in overtime, including a dagger 3-pointer from about 27-feet with Bellfield in his jersey with 1:18 left that gave TCU a 96-91 lead. The Rebels never got any closer than four points after that.
“It feels great,” Thorns, who spent the summer playing many of UNLV’s players in open gym, said. “I was overwhelmed. I might have dropped down about four times. I just had to sit down and cry. I had to go find my dad because I was just so overwhelmed.”
“He’s a great player and we caught him on one of his days,” Rice said.
The Horned Frogs finished with a 46-31 rebounding edge, including 19 offensive rebounds that led to a 19-8 edge in second chance points. TCU also finished with a 33-13 advantage in bench points.
“I’ve said it from day one that the most important stat for us is defensive rebounding,” Rice said. “It takes away second chance points from the other team and it gets our break going.”
The Rebels lost despite shooting 53 percent from the floor and a blistering 48 percent (12 of 25) from 3-point range. Senior forward Chace Stanback, who had scored a total of four points on 1-of-12 shooting in UNLV’s two previous Mountain West road games at Wyoming and Air Force, broke out of his road shooting slump with 17 points, including 5 of 7 3-pointers.
But in the end poor rebounding and too-much Thorns did UNLV in.
“We played well enough offensively to win,” Rice said. “Twenty assists, made 12 3’s, made free throws tonight. But if that’s the sense of urgency we play with for the entire game, we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Rebels can’t afford to dwell on this one. Not with Saturday’s showdown with New Mexico on deck.
“We’ve got a big game on Saturday that we’ve got to ready for,” Rice said. “It hurts because we were in position to go into that game in a good spot and yet we can’t look back. We can’t get this one back. We’ve got to move forward.”
–Mylvsports.com staff report