Well, that was ugly.
But it is March, and second place in the Mountain West still hangs on a limb of opportunity, so UNLV’s basketball team will take its 68-64 victory against Boise State on Tuesday night and not apologize.
And likely spend today giving thanks for Anthony Marshall.
The Rebels will honor Marshall on Saturday afternoon as one of three seniors playing a final regular-season game at the Thomas & Mack Center, and it has been a season in which the player who isn’t a true point guard time and again has saved UNLV from that spot.
He did so again Tuesday, leading a second-half surge that allowed UNLV to win its fifth straight and escape with a victory on an evening the Rebels benefited from a typically horrendous college whistle and were below average in most facets.
“It was a game where I felt Boise State was a great team but one we could attack and get to the rim on,” Marshall said. “I put it on myself in the second half to get into the lane and make things happen. When we got down, I just wanted to put the team on my back and be more aggressive while also staying under control.
“These being my last few home games, I really didn’t want to lose.”
Marshall played 37 minutes and finished with 16 points, seven assists and zero turnovers, nearly unstoppable in space off high ball screens over the last 20 minutes, either by attacking for scores or drawing defenders and finding open teammates.
UNLV needed every bit of Marshall’s inspired play, given it defended the league’s best 3-point shooting team as if it never watched a minute of film. The Broncos are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but should they earn a berth, woe is a higher seed who guards the perimeter as poorly as the Rebels did.
Boise State made 13 of 25 3s and shot better from distance in the second half, which sort of makes you wonder what the Rebels talked about when down seven at intermission.
“We had a hard time getting to their shooters,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “We were very fortunate to win. We just didn’t do a good enough job on our defensive assignments. But we were resilient and hung in there together. A lot of teams on a night like this, when they couldn’t make a shot, probably would have chucked it up to, ‘It wasn’t our night,’ We are not that way.”
They weren’t. They rallied from 10 down with 10:31 remaining and from six down with 5:01 left. They made big shots when needed most. They got the defensive stops that led to victory.
They were fortunate Derrick Marks spent most of the evening on the bench.
I wrote it last week: College basketball officials are so bad, particularly this season, complaints from any corner of the game should hold no weight. It’s no longer some big mystery that many officials work too much and are incompetent for it.
It’s simple: The majority of those blowing whistles are inept, and the crew of Kelly Self, Rick Hartzell and Darron George did nothing to dispel that notion Tuesday.
Officials are so bad some nights, it’s almost impossible to think they favor one side or the other any more. I’m not even sure they would know how.
Marks is Boise State’s best player who fouled out in 18 minutes, amazing when three of the five infractions against him came via flops or phantom calls. Anthony Drmic is the team’s leading scorer who was limited to 27 minutes, fouling out with 1:03 left in a three-point game.
“It always impacts the game when you play without your best player,” Rice said. “It’s part of the game. That’s why you have 13 scholarship players. You move forward. That’s how it works. But, no question, Boise State is much better with Marks and Drmic on the floor.”
UNLV won’t apologize for the ugly win and shouldn’t. Things tend to even out over a season.
And while Rice and his players will do their best the next few days to convince anyone willing to listen that Fresno State is a dangerous opponent capable of pulling an upset here Saturday, what should be at least a 12-point spread will result in a comfortable UNLV win and a second-place conference finish.
Beforehand, three seniors will be honored. One will be a non-point guard who has played some pretty good point guard in huge spots this season.
Anthony Marshall did so again Tuesday.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.