It was the kind of magic act that would impress Penn and Teller.
One minute, sophomore forward Larry Nance Jr. was dominating Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center, cutting through UNLV’s defense and giving Wyoming a fighting chance. The next minute, poof! Nance was nowhere to be found.
Yes, he was still on the court, but thanks to his teammates and a helping hand by UNLV’s guards, Nance had disappeared - and so did the Cowboys’ chances of stealing a road win as the Rebels prevailed, 62-50.
In the first half, the son of former NBA All-Star big man Larry Nance made 6 of 8 shots and scored 14 points to keep Wyoming within earshot of the Rebels, trailing 29-25. He had already topped his 10.6 scoring average.
But in the second half, Nance took only two shots, making one, and was unable to help rally his team.
“We stopped passing the ball,” said Nance, who finished with 16 points and five steals in 35 minutes. “They pressured our guards, and we weren’t able to move the ball like we did in the first half.”
A defensive adjustment by UNLV threw a road block in front of Nance. While Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins pressured Wyoming’s backcourt, Anthony Bennett and Mike Moser fronted Nance to prevent him from catching the ball in the post.
“We talked about pressuring their guards,” Marshall said. “(Nance) is a really talented player, and we let him hurt us in the first half. He was catching the ball down low, and we weren’t challenging him like we needed to. The second half, we did a better job of denying him the ball, and we were able to keep him in check.”
Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt said UNLV’s personnel contributed to Nance’s second-half cool-down.
“I think their size and speed had a lot to do with it,” Shyatt said. “We didn’t handle their pressure well, and it hurt our ball movement.”
Five of the Cowboys’ seven turnovers came in the second half, partly because UNLV’s pressure had them playing at a more frenetic pace. They began shooting earlier in possessions, and Nance wasn’t getting as many touches.
“There were times in both halves where we were a little antsy,” Shyatt said. “When we were patient, we were pretty good.”
That’s when Nance was thriving. He scored eight straight points to give Wyoming a 10-5 lead, and even though UNLV led by halftime, the Cowboys were confident they could compete.
“I think I started layup-layup-layup,” Nance said. “The guys were doing a great job of finding me when I was open down low.”
But then the lights went out for Nance, and by the time he reappeared, the game was out of Wyoming’s grasp. UNLV climbed to 3-2 in the Mountain West to leapfrog the Cowboys (2-3).
“I still believe we can play with this team,” Nance said. “But we’ll learn from this.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.