One free throw bounced off the rim and then another, and UNLV looked as if it was giving away its chances to win the game.
But when it came down to actually winning Saturday night against Boise State, the Rebels finally came through at the line.
Nick Blair and Noah Robotham each made two free throws in the final 32.6 seconds to finally emerge with an 85-81 overtime victory in the final regular-season game at the Thomas &Mack Center. The Rebels had made just nine of 16 until then.
UNLV (16-13, 10-7 Mountain West) took a major step toward securing fifth place in the conference and the first-day bye of the league tournament, which begins March 13. Only Air Force (13-15, 8-8) can catch the Rebels, who finish their regular season March 9 at Colorado State.
Boise State (11-18, 6-10) continued to fall down the standings with a fifth consecutive loss.
The Broncos didn’t play like a struggling team, however, forcing UNLV to rally in the first and second halves and in overtime.
“They were a tough team, and they were playing with their backs against the wall,” Robotham said. “And so are we. We’re in line for a bye in the tournament.”
But the Rebels made the key plays down the stretch, with the two seniors who were honored before the game coming through.
“I had so many emotions that being my last regular-season game here,” Robotham said.
Kris Clyburn scored 21 points, making 5 of 9 3-pointers, and grabbed six rebounds. It was his 3-pointer with 1:47 left in overtime that gave UNLV the lead for good at 79-78.
Fellow senior Robotham scored 13 points and had nine assists, making several outstanding passes in the second half. And he had those two final free throws that gave the Rebels the crucial two-possession lead with 9.7 seconds left.
UNLV spent the night having to rally.
“I’m very, very proud of the guys and their stick-to-it-ness,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “They hung in there and did a great job. When adversity hit, they had a chance to grow up. Two or three of them really grew up throughout the course of the game, and that was good to see.”
The Broncos took a 30-16 lead in the first half before UNLV rallied with a 20-4 run. Then Boise State went ahead 61-50 with 12:09 left in regulation before the Rebels answered with a 17-5 run, going in front by a point on Clyburn’s 3-pointer with 3:55 left.
Robotham’s 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining gave the Rebels a 72-71 advantage, which Amauri Hardy stretched to two points when he made one of two three throws with 30.8 seconds left.
Boise State’s Justinian Jessup sent the game into overtime with an 18-foot basket with a second to go.
Then in overtime, Boise State quickly took two three-point leads before the Rebels rallied late.
Derrick Alston led the Broncos with 21 points, and Jessup scored 18.
1. Get the broom. UNLV swept Boise State for the first time in seven years. It was the fourth team the Rebels have swept this season. UNLV can make it five March 9 at Colorado State.
2. Blown assists. UNLV’s Noah Robotham had nine assists, but should’ve had more. He threw four fantastic passes in the second half to wide-open teammates who missed each of those 3-point shots.
3. So much for injury talk. The word before Wednesday’s game at UNR was that the Wolf Pack’s top three players were injured, but they played and combined for 67 points. Boise State’s Derrick Alston was considered questionable for Saturday with a bruised toe, but scored a team-high 21 points.