With his team coming in off a lethargic and embarrassing 86-65 loss to UC Santa Barbara, UNLV junior forward Roscoe Smith had one big focus heading into Friday night’s game with Omaha.
“My game plan was just be aggressive,” the 6-foot-8 transfer from UConn said.
He was that and more.
Smith scored 17 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and blocked three shots as the Rebels (2-1) scratched out a tough 73-70 bounce-back win over the Mavericks (2-2).
Khem Birch’s tip-in of a missed jumper by Bryce Dejean-Jones broke a 70-70 tie with 12.3 seconds to go and proved to be the game-winner on a night UNLV managed to overcome 21 turnovers and more poor foul shooting (11-of-22) and also avoided the distinction of losing back-to-back home games to UC Santa Barbara and Omaha.
A big reason for that was the inspired front court play of Smith and the 6-foot-9 Birch, who nearly had a triple-double with nine points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks.
“Roscoe Smith’s performance was unbelievable,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said simply.
It also was the best rebounding performance by a Rebel since Louis Amundson grabbed 22 rebounds in a 2004 win at Auburn. Smith came within four boards of the school record of 26 set by Jimmie Baker in 1973 against San Francisco.
“He brings a tremendous energy to the team on both ends of the court,” Dejean-Jones, who scored 15 of his game-high 19 points in the second half, said.
UNLV finished with a 55-43 rebounding edge and outshot the Mavericks, 43.9 percent to 32.9 percent. But because of sloppy ball-handling – the Rebels had 15 turnovers in the first half alone and still managed to somehow build a 36-27 halftime lead – and more struggles at the free throw line, they almost let it get away at the end.
Forward Mike Rostampour nailed an open 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:36 remaining to tie it, 68-68, for the Mavericks, who trailed by as many as 11 points earlier in the half.
Dejean-Jones put the Rebels back in front, 70-68, by sinking two free throws, but Omaha came back to tie it again on a pair of free throws by explosive 5-foot-11 guard Devin Patterson (17 points) with 42.5 seconds left.
Rice then called timeout to set up an isolation play for Dejean-Jones, who had scored 13 points over a 6 ½-minute stretch midway through the second half.
“He called a high ball screen for me,” Dejean-Jones, who missed a 17-foot fallaway jumper, said. “I was just supposed to waste the clock out and then come off and try and make a play. Then Khem did a great job of attacking the rim and finishing on it.”
“I knew that (Omaha) would be in help (defense) because (Dejean-Jones) would get by his man and have a good shot,” Rice said. “Khem, because of the help, was able to get in here and tip it in. A game winning play and a huge win for us.”
Birch had his eighth block on the ensuing possession when guard CJ Carter drove to the basket with five seconds left. Rebel swingman Jelan Kendrick then was fouled and hit the second of two free throws with 4.6 seconds left to extend the margin to three points.
Carter had a chance to tie it but his long 3-pointer from the right side of the key at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim.
“There’s not an aspect of the game that we don’t need to get better,” Rice said, “but the thing that pleased me is that we played hard, we played together, and we found a way to win the basketball game. … We have a lot, lot, lot to work on moving forward.”
The Rebels return to action on Tuesday night when they host Arizona State at 7 p.m.