As his eyes darted in different directions and his heart pounded, Wink Adams could feel the pressure. And he knew it was all on his shoulders.
He glanced at the clock: 7.2 seconds remaining. His team trailed by two points. What happened next would go a long way in defining UNLV’s basketball season.
He could feel the pressure — and see it, too.
"I was real nervous," Adams said. "I looked at my mother and she had her eyes closed. Everybody was just thinking the wrong way.
"I knew I had to do something. I knew this tournament is real important to our season."
The clock started, Adams dribbled to his right, and the junior guard did something he will never forget.
Adams made a 10-foot jumper over four defenders, was fouled and finished a game-winning three-point play with 3.4 seconds remaining to lift the Rebels to a thrilling 89-88 victory over Texas Christian on Thursday night.
Adams rose to the occasion, and second-seeded UNLV (24-7) survived a major scare before a crowd of 10,857 in the Mountain West Conference Tournament quarterfinals at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I had to hit the shot," Adams said. "I was doing it for my teammates and for the fans."
And he did it so his mom could open her eyes.
Adams scored 19 of his game-high 29 points in the second half. After a flurry of countless big shots, Adams’ final one counted most.
"I honestly thought he made a tough shot," Horned Frogs coach Neil Dougherty said. "They made the last play of a very hard-fought game."
The Rebels, still in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid that was so close to slipping away, advanced to play sixth-seeded Utah in the semifinals at 9 p.m. today. The Utes upset third-seeded New Mexico 82-80 in overtime in the last of Thursday’s four games.
Few, if any, games this entire season could top the drama and overall quality of UNLV’s victory over TCU.
"It was a good game," Rebels coach Lon Kruger said in a whopping understatement. "Our guys made play after play after play down the stretch."
The seventh-seeded Horned Frogs (14-16) had averaged 48.3 points in losing their previous three games, but they shot a record-breaking 17-for-23 from 3-point range. They set an MWC tournament record for 3-pointers made.
Senior guard Brent Hackett, who led TCU with 26 points, hit 6 of 8 3-pointers. Kevin Langford made two 3s and had 21 points and nine rebounds. Ryan Wall scored 15 points on five 3-pointers.
"College basketball is a funny thing," Dougherty said. "You know, you can’t explain all of it."
The Horned Frogs, down 52-44 four minutes into the second half, went on a 17-4 run to go ahead 61-56 on John Ortiz’s jumper with 12:38 left.
UNLV’s Rene Rougeau, who shot 7-for-7 and finished with 17 points and nine rebounds, stole a pass and hit Adams with an outlet pass. Adams drove the lane, scored and converted a three-point play to tie it at 68 with 8:31 to go.
The teams kept trading leads until Curtis Terry’s 3 put the Rebels ahead 86-83 with 2:42 remaining. But Terry missed a free throw a minute later, and Hackett hit a jumper to cut the margin to one.
Adams lost control of his dribble and turned the ball over with 52 seconds left. Hackett stunned the crowd by making a 3-pointer to give TCU an 88-86 lead with 30 seconds remaining.
Kruger used a timeout to design a play for Adams, who dribbled into the lane and hit the tying shot over Langford, who was called for a foul.
"Coach called us over and said, ‘There’s a lot of time left.’ He drew up the play, and everybody on the team knew that if he draws up a play and we run it good, it’s going to work," Adams said.
"I can’t remember what happened. I saw an opening, two guys jumped, the whistle blew and I threw it up. I felt a bump. It was a foul."
Langford was unhappy with the call, but did not argue it.
"It just matters what the ref thought, and he thought it was a foul," Langford said.
The Horned Frogs had to go the length of the floor in three seconds, and Hackett missed a running 18-footer at the buzzer. A replay showed his shot was not released in time.
Adams shot 10-for-15 from the field, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers, and made 6 of 8 free throws. Terry finished with 15 points and Joe Darger and Matt Shaw added 11 each.
The Rebels, who hit 11 of 25 3-pointers, shot 58.5 percent to counter TCU’s 54 percent shooting.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2907.
UNLV — 89 TEXAS CHRISTIAN — 88 KEY: Wink Adams made a 10-foot jumper, was fouled and finished a three-point play with 3.4 seconds left to save the Rebels from a first-round upset loss in the MWC tournament. NEXT: UNLV vs. Utah, MWC semifinals, 9 p.m. today, CSTV (333), KWWN-AM (1100)