RENO — Just when it seemed Deonte Burton might go down without a fight, the UNR senior guard unleashed a flurry. It was a combination of 3-pointers, driving layups and one soaring dunk.
And, when it was over, UNLV was hit with a knockout blow.
“I was just thinking this is my last go-round at home,” he said. “I thought I had to kind of take the game over and make plays.”
Burton totaled 24 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds to rally the Wolf Pack to a wild 76-72 victory over the Rebels on Saturday night at Lawlor Events Center, where a few hundred fans among the crowd of 10,317 stormed the court.
UNLV (19-12, 10-8) lost control and surrendered a 17-point second-half lead to get swept in the regular-season series.
Junior forward Khem Birch had 15 points, a career-high 22 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Rebels, who will be the No. 4 seed and open against Wyoming at 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the Mountain West tournament.
Cole Huff finished with 22 points for UNR (15-16, 10-8) as it secured the No. 3 seed.
Huff’s rebound basket with 33 seconds remaining broke a tie, and Marqueze Coleman made two free throws with 7.1 seconds to go to help the Wolf Pack close out an improbable comeback.
“I’m frustrated for our guys,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “I’m just disappointed for them because they played hard and well enough to win the game.”
Birch, fighting through the pain of a left hip flexor, dominated in the paint before Burton took control down the stretch.
“Incredibly proud of his effort,” Rice said of Birch, who grabbed 10 offensive rebounds. “We didn’t know if he was going to be able to play or not, and he battled through. That’s a huge, heroic effort.”
Birch was equally impressed with Burton, who shot 8-for-16, made two 3-pointers and hit all six of his free throws in 37 minutes on his Senior Night.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Birch said. “Every time I go on the court I’m going to give 100 percent.
“There was one point where I just knew Burton was going to attack the basket, and I couldn’t block his shot. He almost had a triple-double, so you’ve got to give him credit for leading his team back to a victory.”
The Rebels led 54-37 after Kevin Olekaibe knocked down a jumper with 16:10 remaining, but they went into a deep freeze against a zone defense and gave back all but one point of the lead in less than six minutes.
Burton hit a pair of 3s during a 19-3 run, and UNR closed the gap to 57-56 on Huff’s short jumper with 10:34 to play.
“Burton is a great player, and he got going. That’s what great players do is put the team on their back and lead,” Rice said. “We just went a little bit cold and lost momentum.”
The Wolf Pack tied the score at 60 on Coleman’s layup at the 7:52 mark. Coleman’s steal triggered a fast break that resulted in a layup and three-point play by Michael Perez to put UNR up 63-60 with 7:25 to go.
Jelan Kendrick spotted up on the wing and banked in a 3-pointer, his fourth of the game, to tie it at 67 with 4:59 left.
Burton drove to the rim, shot-faked to draw two defenders into the air and dropped in a layup to make it 72-70 at the 3:08 mark.
Birch backed down Ali Fall, rolled in a left-handed layup and was fouled to tie it at 72 with 1:19 left. But Birch missed the free throw, and then was called for a questionable turnover afer grabbing a defensive rebound and falling out of bounds.
Down two points, UNLV had two shots to tie, but Kendrick missed a 3-point attempt from the left corner and Chris Wood missed a midrange floater after corralling an offensive rebounder.
The Rebels were down two starters. Junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and junior forward Roscoe Smith missed his second consecutive game while recovering from a concussion.
Still, UNLV came out firing and threatened to run away from UNR early.
Birch had seven points and 14 rebounds, and Deville Smith had 10 points to lift the Rebels to a 41-35 halftime lead. UNLV shot 15 of 43 (35 percent) from the field, 7 of 15 on 3s in the first half.
Kendrick connected three times from 3-point range in the first 5½ minutes, and the Rebels broke from the gate to race to an 18-6 lead.
Burton picked up the pace and guided the Wolf Pack, who finished last in the conference a year ago, on a thrilling comeback ride.
“It’s amazing how you can turn everything around in one year,” Burton said.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.