A driving bank shot by Tre'Von Willis had just put UNLV ahead. The crowd was roaring, and the momentum was going one way.
Three minutes remained on the clock.
"The game's not over," said D.J. Gay, San Diego State's senior point guard. "That's what was going through my head is, 'The game's not over.' We were going to find a way to win."
Or the team with the ball and everything going for it would find a way to lose.
Gay scored a game-high 20 points, including two tiebreaking free throws with one minute to go Saturday, as the No. 6 Aztecs handed the Rebels a crushing 63-57 loss before a sellout of 18,557 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"A game the magnitude of this against a Top 10 team, we definitely wanted this one," Willis said. "It's very disappointing."
San Diego State, 25-1 overall and tied atop the Mountain West Conference at 10-1, found a winning formula despite making only two field goals in the game's final 10 minutes.
After Willis drove around Kawhi Leonard and scored to put UNLV up 55-54 with 3:07 left, the Rebels missed their final seven field-goal attempts, six from 3-point range.
With 2:24 remaining, Chace Stanback missed an open 3 from the left corner with a shot to put UNLV up four. In succession, Willis, Oscar Bellfield, Willis, Stanback and Anthony Marshall also misfired from behind the arc in the last two minutes.
The Rebels trailed 49-39 after the Aztecs' James Rahon drove baseline for a layup midway through the second half.
The response by UNLV was a 16-5 run that was put together with six layups and four free throws. Instead of continuing to attack the basket and work the ball inside, the Rebels (18-7, 6-5) fell on the sword by hoisting long-range jumpers.
UNLV shot 1-for-15 on 3s, failing to learn a lesson after shooting 1-for-18 on 3s in a 55-49 loss at San Diego State on Jan. 12.
Rebels coach Lon Kruger did not second-guess his shooters, saying he thought most of the shots were "really good rhythm 3s" at the end.
With the game tied at 55 with two minutes to go, Willis missed a tightly defended 3 early in the shot clock. UNLV corralled the offensive rebound, and Bellfield missed an unguarded 3 from the top of the key.
"I kind of felt like some of the shots were good shots. They were open looks," said Bellfield, who had 12 points and shot 5-for-14, including 0-for-5 on 3s. "I don't think they were bad decisions at all."
After Bellfield's free throws tied the score at 57 with 1:22 left, Marshall fouled Gay on the dribble 20 feet from the basket. Gay hit both free throws.
Willis missed a 3, and San Diego State's Malcolm Thomas rebounded and made two free throws to hold off the Rebels' charge.
"It was one of our hardest games," said Gay said, who shot 6-for-12 from the field and had no turnovers in 40 minutes. "They definitely gave us a run for our money.
"UNLV is a point guard's worst nightmare the way they pressure you 94 feet. I haven't felt that kind of defensive pressure and intensity in a game in a long time. They played their hearts out."
Junior center Brice Massamba was the Rebels' surprise contributor off the bench with 11 points and six rebounds.
"You always have to play tough against them," Massamba said, "and hit them before they hit you."
While UNLV labored offensively for most of the game, its inability to hit free throws (12-for-19) also hurt. Gay shot 8-for-9 from the line, and the Aztecs were 20-for-22.
Willis scored 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting, and he hit UNLV's only 3 in the first half.
"In the first half, we played a little lackadaisical on the offensive end even though we competed hard on the defensive end," Willis said. "They're a good defensive team. We wanted to start running more. I felt like we could have attacked more."
Leonard scored 10 points as San Diego State established control early to take a 34-27 halftime lead. Leonard finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds as the Aztecs won their fourth straight against the Rebels, whose NCAA Tournament hopes are slipping away.
"Obviously, that would have been a good one to get," Kruger said. "But you're not changing the outcome."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.