It was not a last-second thriller, and there was no highlight-reel play that put UNLV over the top. But junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was willing to take this one any way he could get it.
“I’m just looking to win,” he said.
After nearly shooting themselves out of the game from long range, the Rebels got back on track by executing basic basketball and hitting high-percentage shots, such as free throws.
Dejean-Jones made all six of his free throws in the final five minutes and finished with 19 points and nine rebounds as UNLV held off a second-half charge by Colorado State to win 78-70 at the Thomas &Mack Center on Wednesday night.
The Rebels (18-10, 9-6 Mountain West) allowed a 14-point lead to dwindle to one before regrouping to stop their two-game losing streak.
“The last two games were tough,” Dejean-Jones said. “We were looking to be more intense.”
J.J. Avila scored 22 points and tried to rally the Rams (15-14, 6-10) down the stretch.
Colorado State trailed 41-31 at the half but cut its deficit to 60-56 on Avila’s 3-pointer with 10:08 remaining. A 3-pointer by Octeus and a layup by Avila pulled the Rams within 62-61.
But Joe De Ciman missed a potential tying free throw, and the Rebels retaliated with a 9-0 run.
Khem Birch scored on a layup, Kevin Olekaibe hit a short baseline jumper and Deville Smith made two free throws as UNLV went up 69-61 at the 5:35 mark. Dejean-Jones’ two free throws made it a 10-point game with 4:37 to go, and he made four more in the final minute to close the book on Colorado State’s comeback.
“I just thought we were tough,” coach Dave Rice said. “We found a way to make plays.”
Rice said the Rebels’ “heart was just ripped out” in a 91-90 overtime loss at Boise State on Saturday, when Deville Smith’s apparent winning 3-pointer as time expired was disallowed after a replay review.
The 3-point line was not what revived UNLV four days later, either. The Rebels shot 1-for-13 on 3s in the second half, and Deville Smith made the one.
“We went a little bit cold, as we’ve been known to do at times,” Rice said. “We going to always shoot a few more 3s than I like just because of the way teams are defending us.”
With the Rams threatening to take the lead, Rice sent a message during a timeout.
“He just told us to get the ball inside, and we started doing that,” said Dejean-Jones, who missed his first two free throws of the game and shot 6-for-15 from the field, 1-for-4 on 3-pointers.
Olekaibe finished with 15 points, Deville Smith had 12 points and Jelan Kendrick added 11 for UNLV, which hit 7 of 28 3s in the game.
The Rebels held a 48-35 advantage in rebounds — with Roscoe Smith grabbing a game-high 11 — after Rice emphasized the importance of outworking the Rams in the paint.
Despite sitting for almost six minutes of the second half with four fouls, Daniel Bejarano scored 21 points on 7-for-20 shooting, and Jon Octeus had 17 points for Colorado State.
Bejarano’s 24 points carried the Rams to a 75-57 victory in the teams’ first meeting on Feb. 5.
Dejean-Jones and Kendrick scored nine points apiece to lift UNLV to a 10-point halftime lead. The Rebels shot 47 percent (17 of 36) from the field, including 6 of 15 from 3-point range, before cooling off after the half.
UNLV moved into sole possession of third place in the conference — behind New Mexico and San Diego State — and has three games remaining to hold that seed for the Mountain West tournament in two weeks.
“It’s really important,” Olekaibe said, “because we want to finish as high as we can in the conference.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.