The Rebels were thisclose to an 0-2 start in conference play, and probably full-out panic among the fans, before a very unlikely contributor stepped up to lead UNLV past Air Force, 76-71, in overtime.
The game opened with Bryce Dejean-Jones losing his starting spot to Mike Moser, but if Dejean-Jones was disappointed with the move, he didn’t let it show in his play. He scored 18 points, including eight of the team’s 14 in overtime, to bail out the Rebels’ offense down the stretch. Dejean-Jones was also the guy who hit two huge free throws to tie the game with 36 seconds left in regulation, sending it to OT.
It was an eye-opening performance for BDJ, who has taken criticism for his shot selection this season. But he stepped up at the right time — after building a 38-30 halftime lead, the UNLV offense went morgue-cold for much of the second half. The Rebels went over seven minutes without a field goal at one point, as Air Force’s zone defense forced a string of missed shots from the perimeter.
But BDJ’s free throws pushed the game to overtime, and the sophomore guard took over from there.
With Anthony Bennett wobbly with the flu, Dave Rice said the team made a concerted effort to get the ball to BDJ in OT.
“We made the decision in overtime that he was going to be our go-to guy when Anthony Bennett wasn’t in the game,” Rice said.
Dejean-Jones opened the overtime period with a baseline drive and dunk, then drilled a game-tying jumper with 1:06 to play. After a Michael Lyons free throw put Air Force ahead 71-70 in the final minute, the Rebels again called Dejean-Jones’ number.
Anthony Marshall drove the lane and found BDJ on the baseline, and he connected from about 14 feet away with 11 seconds to play.
Air Force’s final possession was an isolation play for Lyons, but Dejean-Jones locked him down and forced an off-balance jumper that Khem Birch rebounded to seal the win.
For Dejean-Jones, the string of clutch buckets made a potentially bad day especially sweet.
“Whenever we get that opportunity, we all look to knock it down,” Dejean-Jones said of his late-game heroics. “Tonight it was my night and that’s how it went.”
After escaping Air Force, the Rebels’ focus is now on Wednesday’s rivalry game at San Diego State.
Moser returns to starting lineup
Dejean-Jones moved to the bench to make room for Mike Moser, who started his first game since Dec. 9. Moser got off to a hot start, looking like his old self while posting 12 points and six rebounds in the first half. Though he cooled down the stretch, he still provided his familiar double-double stat line: 14 points, 11 rebounds. “I felt comfortable right from the get-go,” said Moser, who ended up playing 40 minutes. “Guys were getting me the ball, I was getting easy baskets early, so I was able to fit right in.”
Bennett sick (not slang — literally)
Anthony Bennett battled some type of ailment throughout the game, as he was noticeably low on energy. Rice couldn’t say for certain what type of illness it was, just that Bennett was fatigued and laboring to breathe. Still, the freshman posted a team-high 22 points and 16 rebounds. His condition was most evident at the free throw line, where he made just 2-of-8. Bennett came into the game as a 75.5 percent free throw shooter.
Marshall’s dozen dimes
Senior Anthony Marshall was held scoreless for the first time this season, but he seemed fine with it after the game. In fact, he took just one shot on the night and said he was playing with a newfound focus on making the offense run more efficiently. “I’ve just got to make guys better,” Marshall said. “That’s what point guards and leaders do, so that’s the role I’m taking from here on out.” Marshall dished out a season-high 12 assists against just two turnovers.