For the second time this season the UNLV Runnin' Rebels eclipsed the century mark against a tough Air Force Falcons squad. However, this time it wasn't nearly as easy, as UNLV needed triple overtime to secure a 108 to 102 victory and advance to the Quarterfinals of the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
The Rebels would start the game on a 9-0 run and would stretch their lead to as many as 11, but with 2:30 left in the first half Stephen Zimmerman would pick up his third foul. With the star center on the bench, the Jacob Van led Falcons would go on an 11-0 run and tie the game at 38 entering the break.
Foul trouble for UNLV continued to dictate the second half for the Rebels, as Zimmerman would pick up his fourth foul around the 14 minute mark and eventually pick up his fifth foul with just under nine minutes to play. This appeared to the straw that would break the Rebels back.
Just about every sustained run the Falcons went out occurred while Zimmerman was on the bench, and now he was done for the night. That would not be the case though, as walk on senior Barry Cheaney would play hero for the short handed Rebels.
With under three minutes left and the Rebels down four, the undersized Cheaney was tasked with guarding Falcons big man Frank Toohey. Despite the size advantage he was able to face up and force an errant pass that was picked off by an alert Jerome Seagears and eventually turned into two made free throws for Patrick McCaw.
Jerome Seagears making the biggest defensive play of the season for UNLV. Steal led to McCaw FTs pic.twitter.com/5vnw8V6YWu— Mike Grimala (@MikeGrimala) March 9, 2016
On the Falcons next trip down, leading the Rebels by two, Cheaney was able to force another steal which led to another two point bucket by Patrick McCaw and a tie game. From there the two team would trade baskets with Jacob Van hitting a floater with six seconds left to tie the game. Ike Nwamu would miss a lay up as time expired and the game would head to overtime.
Each of the three overtimes would begin the same, with the Rebels taking control, and Jacob Van and the Falcons scrambling to tie it up. In the first two overtimes, Air Force was successful, as UNLV was unable to consistently hit their free throws, allowing Air Force to keep the game within one possession, and eventually tie it. That trend would end during the third overtime.
The Rebels surged out to a five point lead and each time the Falcons got the game within one possession UNLV was able was able to answer to push their lead back to two possessions.
After the Nwamu layup, the Falcons were forced to foul, and UNLV was able to convert their attempts and seal a thrilling victory.
Ike Nwamu played his best game as a Rebel, scoring a game high 37 points, with 16 of them coming off of free throws. Patrick McCaw continued his all around great play, contributing 27 points on an efficient 12 of 19 shooting. Each player was on court for the entire 55 minutes.
Jacob Van, who was almost unstoppable, led the Falcons in scoring with a career high 37 points, while Zach Kocur chipped in 17 and Hayden Graham finished with 16.
For UNLV the end result was exactly what they needed, it was win, and they showed incredible heart, responded when the were faced with adversity, and refused to lose. However, if they are to have any chance against Marvelle Harris and the Fresno State Bulldogs, they will need to avoid turning the ball over 23 times and big man Stephen Zimmerman will need to stay on the court for more than 17 minutes.