Nick Blair’s second-half defense on San Diego State’s Jalen McDaniels helped get UNLV back into Saturday night’s Mountain West game.
The Rebels then had a shot to beat the Aztecs, and Blair found himself open for a 3-pointer. But when the ball bounced off the front of the rim, San Diego State escaped the Thomas & Mack Center with a 60-59 victory.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies and point guard Noah Robotham said there was confusion over the final play, though the result was a wide-open look by Blair.
“It was a miscommunication between myself and Amauri (Hardy),” Robotham said. “He was on the wing. He should’ve been in the corner. He thought we were going to something else, but it was my fault because he mentioned something right before the play happened. It was like another play, and I didn’t really understand what he meant, but I should’ve nipped it in the bud at that time. It was miscommunication, but that falls on me.”
The Rebels were in position to win after McDaniels missed two free throws with 10.7 seconds left.
Robotham led the Rebels (15-12, 9-6 MW) with 18 points, and Kris Clyburn scored 15. McDaniels scored 16 for San Diego State (18-9, 10-4) but only four in the second half.
Joel Ntambwe guarded McDaniels, who scored 30 points in last month’s meeting in San Diego, for most of the first half. Blair drew the assignment most of the second half, as Ntambwe sat for the final 12:38.
“I didn’t go back to Joel just because of how well Nick was playing defensively,” Menzies said. “Nick gave us a little more of a physical presence with (McDaniels). He’s just a little more mature right now in his development and scouting IQ. So I rolled with him a little bit.”
Robotham’s hot shooting also put the Rebels in position, helping them rally from a 12-point deficit with 12:33 left. He made five 3-pointers, the last making the score 45-45 with 7:37 remaining.
“I got a lot of good looks,” Robotham said. “Once you’re in a rhythm like that, it feels like you’re in a workout. It was big for us because we were down and that 3 gave us momentum, and I think people around UNLV really love 3s, so it’s important to make those.”
UNLV led 58-57 in the final two minutes when Aztecs point guard Devin Watson headed toward his bench and appeared to signal for a timeout. Watson instead saw Matt Mitchell open in the left corner.
Rebels center Mbacke Diong rushed over to defend Mitchell but jumped into him. Mitchell then made three free throws to give the Aztecs a 60-58 lead with 1:26 left.
“He was wide open, so I tried to go challenge it,” said Diong, who had eight points and 15 rebounds. “But I should’ve closed out short and make him drive it.”
Hardy then made one of two free throws with 1:02 left to bring the Rebels within one point. But he stepped out of bounds with 12.2 seconds to go, and McDaniels missed two free throws to set up the final play.
1. Going cold. Some hot shooting, particularly five 3-pointers by Noah Robotham, got UNLV back into contention. But the Rebels scored one field goal in the final 7½ minutes. They did make 12 free throws over that span.
2. Effective adjustment. After Robotham made his fifth 3, San Diego State’s Devin Watson stuck with him rather than switch. Robotham took just one 3 after that and missed.
3. Old-time feel. The crowd of 12,000 for the Jan. 29 game against UNR was larger, but this one was louder. About 8,000 attended, getting noisy in the second half and making it feel like UNLV-San Diego State games from a few years ago.