Crazy. Quirky. Nerve-racking. Must win.
All those terms were used after UNLV’s 63-62 victory over New Mexico
on Saturday afternoon before a Kids’ Day crowd of 13,843 at the Thomas &
The Runnin’ Rebels (15-5, 3-3), who turned the ball over twice in the
final 36 seconds, had to survive a potential game-tying free throw by
Lobo freshman guard Kendall Williams with 1.1 seconds left that would
have likely forced overtime to hold on for the victory over the defending
Mountain West Conference champs.
Brice Massamba outwrestled Drew Gordon for the rebound and a distraught
Williams, who had made his seven previous free throw attempts, fell flat on
the floor as the buzzer sounded.
“I thought it was going down,” Williams, who was fouled on a 12-foot
jumper after intercepting a what-were-you-thinking? inbounds pass by
Derrick Jasper near the New Mexico basket with just 2.9 seconds remaining,
said. “I thought the shot was going down and I thought the free throw was
going down. Sometimes it just doesn’t bounce your way.”
Leading 63-61, UNLV had seemingly clinched the game when a driving
Williams passed up a short floater to try and hit Lobo 3-point specialist
Phillip McDonald on the wing for a potential game-winning trey. However,
McDonald had started to break toward the basket and the ball sailed through
his hands into the New Mexico bench.
All Jasper, a fifth-year senior praised by Rebel coaches for his high
basketball I.Q., needed to do was toss the inbounds pass deep toward
UNLV’s backcourt and it’s doubtful the Lobos, who were out of timeouts,
would have had time to get another shot up even with a steal. But Jasper
pump-faked toward the basket and Williams then intercepted the ensuing
pass toward the key where no Rebel was standing.
Jasper then rushed in to foul Williams on his shot. The freshman from Los
Osos High in Rancho Cucamonga, who turned down schools like UCLA to
play for the Lobos, hit the first of his two foul shots, but the second one that
would have forced overtime rimmed out.
“It was kind of scary,” junior forward Chase Stanback, who finished with 20
points and nine rebounds, said. “My heart was pounding. I thought we lost it
there for a second.”
“Yes I was nervous,” senior guard Tre’Von Willis, who had two huge steals
in the final 43 seconds, said. “I’m happy we got the win. I’m happy he
A loss would have dropped the Rebels, coming off an embarrassing 78-
63 home loss to Colorado State, to just 2-4 in MWC play, including three
home losses, and looking like a strong candidate for a high seed in the NIT.
Instead, UNLV can travel to struggling Wyoming (8-11, 1-4) Tuesday night
with the real possibility of a respectable 5-3 first half of league play and still
considered a solid NCAA Tournament at-large bid candidate.
“That was a must win,” Willis said. “We knew it was a must win. We were
talking that whoever lost that game was going to have four conference
losses. That wouldn’t have been any good for us.”
“It was huge,” added freshman center Carlos Lopez, who played his best
game as a Rebel with nine points and three steals in just 12 minutes of
action. “There are no words. It was huge. We came out with a victory and
hopefully it’s going to jump-start us on a good run.”
Said Kruger: “It was crazy. It was kind of a quirky way to finish it.”
Although most of the attention afterward finished on Williams’ late turnover
and missed free throw, it was a big steal by Willis, who said he decided
just 15 minutes before tip-off that he would be able to play with a sore right
knee, that turned the game to UNLV’s favor.
The Rebels were trailing, 61-60, with 29 seconds left when Willis knifed
in front of Lobo point guard Dairese Gary to steal a pass by freshman
swingman Tony Snell. Gary then compounded the miscue by grabbing
Willis’ right arm for an intentional foul. That not only gave the Rebel guard
two free throws which Willis sank to give UNLV a 62-61 lead but also gave
the Rebels possession of the ball.
“It was a tough call but pretty clearly (Gary) grabbed him with two hands
and the official got it,” Kruger said.
On the ensuing possession, Oscar Bellfield, who finished with 13 points
and five assists, was fouled and sank one of two free throws to make it 63-
61 with 18.2 seconds left. That set the stage for William’s errant pass for
McDonald with 2.9 seconds left.
“I was thinking three,” Williams said. “I was thinking three and Phil’s our
best shooter. I was thinking game over, but we weren’t on the same page.”
“Excitement,” Stanback said of his feelings after Williams’ free throw
miss. “Excitement. We finally got a win for once. It’s been a while.”
Actually, it has only been a week since UNLV rallied for a 64-52 victory at
Air Force. But those final nerve-wracking seconds on Saturday afternoon no
doubt made it seem a whole lot longer.
It was leaning more towards not going to play before warm-ups.
I felt I had to (play). The way we
I got on the bike to try and keep it as warm as possible to get out there and
Decided to play 15 minutes before game. Barely warmed up.
“I don’t want to even throw out percentages. That’s the percentage I think it
is. I don’t even was to throw out a percentage.”
“It’s pretty sore. It was really a game-time decision.
I tried to step into Kendall Wallace’s role tonight.
“I drew the assignment of Gary. I was going to deny him a little bit. They
threw inside and that’s when I stepped inside in front of him. That’s when I
was going to go off to the race and make a bucket and he fouled me.
After Jasper threw away:
“Yeah, I was nervous. … I’m happy we got the win. I’m happy he missed
“I take pride in just doing whatever coach or the team needs me to do.
Tonight they needed me to play defense and just make a couple of big plays.
That was it. Besides that, the rest of the team stepped up and got the win for
“That was a must-win. We knew it was a must-win. We were talking
whoever lost that game was going to have four conference losses. That
wouldn’t have been any good for us. Now we’re hoping we’ve got some
momentum and carry it on.”
“We were happy tonight we just got the win. It was a close one and we got
the win at the end. But we’ve got to work on closing ballgames out though.
“It was a must-win game for both teams. We were able to fight from
beginning to end. We had some bad plays that happened throughout the
course of the game but in the end I felt like we played a good game.
“Coach wanted to call timeout but we didn’t get in time. I think he wanted to
throw it to the other end of the court so they would have to bring it back up
in two seconds. … I’m just glad we got the win.”
When Williams missed?
“Excitement. Excitement. We finally got a win for once. It’s been a while.”
Just to keep my ankle warm
“It was huge. There’s no words. It was huge. We came out with a victory
and hopefully it’s going to jump-start us on a good run. Hopefully the next
game we come out with the same energy.”
Having Willis play?
“It’s great. It’s a vote of confidence. Even when you see him riding the
bicycle with the fans, knowing that you have him there, is just a great vote of
“It’s Tre. Come on. He’s a great player. He will come up big when he’s most
needed. … I hope people appreciate what kind of player he is.”