LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Behind by a point with less than 10 seconds remaining, UNLV got clutch plays from Jackie Johnson III and EJ Harkless to squeeze out a 54-53 victory Friday night over Air Force.
Johnson’s steal on an inbounds pass set up a layup by Keshon Gilbert. He missed the shot, but Harkless put back the rebound with 1.8 seconds left for the decisive basket.
“Couldn’t be more proud of them for continuing to fight,” Rebels coach Kevin Kruger said. “Shows that the message got through.”
Kruger said the Rebels’ lone shot at pulling out a victory was pretty much what happened.
“Jackie getting a hand on that pass was the only option we had left,” he said. “The only chance we had to win the game was if someone got a deflection or a steal, and he did that. Couldn’t be happier for the guys to get one to go our direction.”
The Mountain West triumph before 5,831 at the Thomas & Mack Center snapped a three-game losing streak for UNLV (17-11, 6-10). Harkless led all scorers with 23 points, including 19 in the second half. He made 9 of 17 shots (including missing all six of his 3 pointers) and 5 of 7 free throws.
Air Force (14-16, 5-12) got 16 points apiece from Jake Heidbreder and Rytis Petraitis. Petraitis also added a game-high 10 rebounds.
Missing starters Elijah Parquet and Luis Rodriguez because of injury, the Rebels struggled to pull away. Their biggest lead was three points, and there were 14 lead changes.
Kruger also praised the tenacity of Air Force. “The hardest part about playing Air Force is having guys that haven’t seen it,” he said. “There is really no way to truly simulate what they do.”
UNLV is 45-15 all-time against Air Force, including 33-2 at home.
UNLV plays its final regular-season home game 8 p.m. Wednesday against Utah State. The Rebels finish their regular-season at Nevada-Reno on March 4.