Friday night’s game was an exhibition but also the perfect example of what an experienced point guard can mean.
With UNLV tied with Division II Montana State-Billings and the seconds ticking down at the Thomas & Mack Center, Noah Robotham came up with the play of the night.
He drove left just above the 3-point arc and handed the ball to Kris Clyburn, who dashed in for a layup with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Rebels an 83-81 victory.
“You want to have something going to the basket, so we wanted to have some kind of inside touch and hopefully get fouled or get a two-point shot,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “Noah instead of being regimented … he saw an opportunity and within his savviness made a pitch-ahead pass to Kris, and Kris saw a lane and took it. So obviously, we’re going to take that one.”
Shakur Juiston had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Mbacke Diong 15 points and 17 rebounds for the Rebels, who open their season at home Nov. 10 against Loyola Marymount.
Robotham added 14 points and four assists, showing the presence that comes with 85 prior career Division I starts. This was the senior’s first start for the Rebels; the former Bishop Gorman standout is a transfer from Akron.
Billings had tied the games with 8.3 seconds left on a three-point play by Brendan Howard.
“I’ve been in that situation so many times,” Robotham said. “I have a lot of games under my belt, and it worked out well. We’ve been working on that the whole week, the seven-second, eight-second scenario, and we ran it well.”
Though Robotham took care of the pass, Clyburn still had to finish. He put UNLV in position to win, scoring six of the Rebels’ final nine points and finishing with a team-high 17 points.
“They switched (on the last play), I don’t know what they did, but they got stuck, so I had a wide-open layup,” Clyburn said.
If UNLV wanted to work on its 3-point defense, Billings provided the opportunity. The Yellowjackets made 13 of 35 3-pointers and shot 47.1 percent overall.
“That was an area of weakness last year, so we’ve talked about it, and we’ve drilled some things,” Menzies said. “That’s where I talk about the lack of discipline. They had way too many attempts. Our goal is 17 attempts a game from the 3 after we looked at the analytics from last year. They had 18 at half.
“Now they made some tough ones. You’ve got to give them credit. They played like a Division I team tonight.”
What UNLV didn’t want was a fight to the end, but the Rebels also got that.
They went on a 15-point run from the end of the first half into the second to take a 37-29 lead, the beginnings of what looked like an easy exhibition victory over out-manned opponent.
The Yellowjackets kept coming back, however, and this would be no easy night for UNLV.
But it was a winning one.
“I wanted it to be competitive, but I didn’t want it to come down to the last shot,” Menzies said. “Nonetheless, they persevered.”