Junior forward Torren Jones scored 18 points, including a tip-in with 25 seconds left for what proved to be the game-winning basket, and also grabbed eight rebounds to lead Fresno State to a 69-66 upset of UNLV in the Mountain West opener for both teams on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Senior guard Marvelle Harris, the preseason Mountain West player of the year who was battling the flu, scored a game-high 22 points and junior forward Paul Watson added 11 points for Fresno State (10-4, 1-0), which forced 21 turnovers and finished with a 33-7 edge in points off turnovers. It was the first win in a conference opener since 2011 for the Bulldogs.
Forward Ben Carter had 12 points and eight rebounds to lead UNLV (9-5, 0-1), which shot a season-low 33 percent from the floor and dropped to 6-11 all-time in Mountain West openers. Freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. added 10 points and 10 rebounds while freshman guard Jalen Poyser, senior guard Ike Nwamu and senior guard Jerome Seagears all finished with 11 points for the Rebels, who lost despite finishing with a 43-31 rebounding advantage.
HOW IT HAPPENED: Fresno State opened the second half with a 12-4 spurt capped by a 7-0 run to take a 39-37 lead. The Bulldogs, taking advantage of an 0-for-10 shooting drought by the Rebels, built a 55-46 lead on a jumper by Jones with 9:03 to go, but UNLV, behind back-to-back 3-pointers by Poyser, rallied to take a 64-60 lead with 2:43 remaining.
After Jones tied it with a rebound basket, Poyser gave UNLV its final lead, 66-64, on a reverse layup with 1:25 left. Junior forward Cullen Russo cut the margin to 66-65 when he made the first of two free throws and then Jones skied over Zimmerman to tip in the miss on the second attempt for what proved to be the game-winning basket.
After Seagears missed a 3-pointer, Jones was fouled on the rebound and then sank two free throws with 11 seconds left. UNLV, out of timeouts, got a pair of off-balance 3-point tries by Patrick McCaw and Seagears at the end but neither shot came close to going in.
WHO STOOD OUT: The powerful 6-foot-9, 230-pound Jones, a transfer from Midland (Texas) JC who began his career at Missouri, was a beast on the boards down the stretch and made the biggest play of the game when he went over the 7-foot Zimmerman to tip in the game-winning points. He finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and two of Fresno State’s 10 steals.
Carter again was UNLV’s “glue-guy” during the second half comeback, taking a pair of charges on Harris and Watson to send them to the bench with their fourth fouls. He also had a key steal and scored eight of UNLV’s final 26 points.
THE SKINNY: It took exactly one Mountain West game for the “Fire Dave Rice” tweets to get going. Okay, not the start most Runnin’ Rebel fans envisioned but it might be a good omen. The last four times UNLV has gone to the NCAA Tournament the Rebels dropped their Mountain West opener including 2010 and 2011 under Lon Kruger. The 2011 squad lost its Mountain West opener at home to BYU, 89-77, and started conference play 2-3 before rebounding for a trip to March Madness.
QUOTES TO NOTE:
UNLV coach Dave Rice on his team finishing with a season-high 21 turnovers.
“Just way, way too many mistakes. Twenty-one turnovers — when we give up 33 points off turnovers and we get only seven off turnovers — there’s a 26-point differential there and it’s hard to win a game like that. … We can’t make 21 turnovers on our home floor against a good team and think we’re going to win the game.”
Fresno State coach Rodney Terry, to the Fresno Bee, on playing the final 5 1/2 minutes with seven players with four fouls including all five starters:
“We were in dire straits there. We tried to steal a couple of possessions in zone and we were really close late in the shot clock — they raised up and made two big threes. We had to make a decision and say, ‘Hey, we just have to play this out and if we lose a couple of guys, we’re going to have to try to play it out.’ I thought our guys did a really good job of staying in front of the basketball and playing without fouling down the stretch.”
UNLV junior forward Ben Carter
“We gave that one away. … You’re not going to win many ballgames when you have 21 turnovers and shoot 33 percent from the field. End of story.”
UP NEXT: The Rebels have a week to regroup before hitting the road for the difficult Front Range road trip beginning Wednesday night at Colorado State at 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network. UNLV then plays at Wyoming on Jan. 9 before returning home to host New Mexico on Jan. 12.
NOTABLE: McCaw, who picked up two fouls in the first 78 seconds and battled foul problems the entire game – he began the second half on the bench with three fouls — finished with two points and five turnovers. … The game featured 14 lead changes and six ties. … Fresno State finished with a 34-14 edge in points in the paint. … UNLV attempted 35 free throws and made 26 (74.3 percent) while Fresno State was just 17-of-26 (65.4 percent) at the line. … The Rebels had seven blocks including three by forward Dwayne Morgan who also grabbed seven rebounds in 18 minutes of action. … Fresno State improved to 2-17 at the Thomas & Mack with both wins coming under Terry including a 61-52 decision on March 9, 2013. … The Bulldogs finished with a 16-5 edge in fast break points. … Nwamu (2-of-7) and Seagears (1-of-6) were a combined 3-of-13 from 3-point range while Poyser was 2-of-2 beyond the arc. … McCaw is averaging 5.0 points and is 7-of-24 from the floor over the last four games including 2-of-13 from 3-point range.