Two weeks after celebrating what was believed to be a milestone victory of No. 3 Arizona, there was another celebration that took place at the buzzer on the floor of the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday night. Only this time it wasn’t the UNLV Rebels rejoicing.
Instead, it was Marqueze Coleman and the Nevada Wolf Pack hugging, jumping and dodging water bottles after upsetting the Rebels, 64-62, in dramatic fashion.
It was Coleman’s jumper from the left of the key over Patrick McCaw with 4.8 seconds remaining that was the game-winner as Nevada (6-8, 2-0) made it three straight victories over the Runnin’ Rebels (9-6, 0-2) in their in-state rivalry.
Rashad Vaughn, who scored a game-high 20 points, attempted an off-balanced 3-pointer that would have won it at the buzzer but wasn’t close as the Rebels, who had used their final timeout to set their defense prior to Coleman’s game-winning shot, had to rush down the court and improvise the best they could at the end.
Senior forward AJ West finished with 15 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks to lead Nevada, which won its third straight game after losing eight in a row.
For a young UNLV team that seemed to be maturing after beating Arizona and losing competitive games at Wyoming and Kansas, it was a painful lesson that there is still a lot of work to be done if they hope to make it to March Madness.
“It was probably one of the tougher losses I’ve had as a player,” senior point guard Cody Doolin, who finished with seven points, eight rebounds and four assists, said. “It (the Rebel locker room) was pretty morose in there.”
“Obviously that was a very difficult loss for us,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
Nevada finished with a 47-39 rebounding edge, including 22 offensive rebounds that led to a 19-11 advantage in second chance points. One of the plays of the game came three minutes to go when the 6-foot-9, 235-pound West, who had an astonishing 10 offensive rebounds, played ping pong above the rim, finally scoring on his third offensive try to give the Wolf Pack a 56-55 lead.
Vaughn put the Rebels back in front when he sank a pair of free throws with 1:57 remaining. The lead changed three more times after that with Coleman hitting a free throw with 30.5 seconds left to give Nevada a 62-60 edge.
But Vaughn, who was 7-of-7 at the free throw line, tied it at 62-62 with 13.6 seconds left after getting fouled on a drive by Tyron Criswell.
After UNLV called the timeout to set its defense, Coleman rubbed off a screen at the top of the key and shot his game-winner.
“He made a tough shot,” Doolin said. “Give a lot of credit to them. They played really well tonight.”
Rice, meanwhile, blamed his team’s lack of toughness on the boards and inability to finish contested shots around the basket for the loss.
“We have to get tougher,” Rice said. “That’s the bottom line. We lost that game tonight because we weren’t tough enough.”
“They were really caving us in there around the basket,” Doolin said. “Like coach said, we’ve just got to get tougher. We’ve got to get those rebounds if we’re going to win that game.
“I think we have to hit people. It’s a physical game. We got out-toughed in our own building tonight, and no one is more upset about it than us.”
Christian Wood finished with 17 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks for UNLV, which hosts a depleted San Jose State (2-13, 0-3) team on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
“For us to be successful in this league, we’re going to have to get tougher,” Rice said. “And we’re going to have to get tougher in a hurry.”