In what turned out to be an unexpectedly fantastic finish, UNLV hung on against a scrappy Air Force squad. Mike Fitzgerald and Michael Lyons led the way for Air Force, with 22 and 19 points, respectively. Both players continuously made key shots down the stretch, including important free throws in overtime.
In the first half, Air Force kept it extremely close until the Rebels started widening the gap a little bit with about 7 minutes left in the half. UNLV found themselves at half time with a somewhat secure cushion of 38-30. The Falcons came out in the second half and gave up only 24 points mainly due to a zone scheme that for the most part kept Anthony Bennett out of being involved in the offense down low.
This led to a seven minute stretch that lasted from 10:48 to 3:48 in the second half where UNLV didn't make a single field goal. Luckily for UNLV, they only gave up 10 points during that stretch and Justin Hawkins three pointer, which ended the stretch, tied the game at 58. A combination of bad shots and way too many missed free throws certainly contributed to the Runnin' Rebels only getting one point over that stretch, but the main reason was lack of offensive execution and good defense on Air Force's part.
When it came down to it, Bryce Dejean-Jones was the one who finally stepped up and made two clutch free throws with 37 seconds left to tie the game at 62. The game went into overtime and was back-and-forth, with neither team getting a lead higher than two, that is until the final seconds of the game. With 40 seconds left and the game tied at 70, Michael Lyons made his first free throw but missed the second, opening the door for UNLV to take the lead with very little time left.
That time came when Bryce Dejean-Jones hit a jump shot from the right baseline with 12 seconds remaining to take a 72-71 lead. A missed shot on a good look for Michael Lyons and a rebound by Khem Birch essentially sealed the deal for UNLV.
Anthony Bennett, who looked to be extremely sick, possibly flu-ridden, had 22 points and 16 rebounds for yet another double-double. His performance game after game simply continues to amaze me. Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench for the first time this season and seemed to flourish in the new role, shooting 50% from the field for 18 points, none more important than the ones coming in crunch time.
What has Rebel fans really excited is the fact that Mike Moser looks to finally be back to full strength after injuring his elbow against Cal. Moser returned to the starting lineup for the first time since that game and played 40 minutes (out of 45), scoring 14 points and 11 rebounds. Moser looked like the same guy that was an NBA prospect after UNLV's hot start to last season. If Moser is indeed back to full strength, which all indications from this game say he is, then this UNLV team just got a big upgrade.
A big thing to point out from this game is that Anthony Marshall didn't score. Not a single point. A player that has been known to be more of a 2 guard and be a "score first" kind of point guard had zero points on 0-1 shooting. The positive side is that he did have 12 assists, but that's certainly a concern. Especially during UNLV's scoring drought late in the second half, they could have used the production that Marshall usually gives as a scorer. If the Rebels are to get better at attacking a zone defense, it's going to start with Marshall being productive driving the ball at the defense and making somebody guard him.
In this season's ultra-competitive Mountain West, UNLV doesn't get a break next week, as they travel to San Diego to take on the Aztecs and then continue on to Fort Collins to take on Colorado State. Air Force plays Colorado State on Wednesday before having to take on Boise State.