LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — UNLV rallied from a 22-point deficit and forced overtime on Shane Nowell’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer before falling 87-76 to Boise State on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels (19-13) got 18 points apiece from EJ Harkless and Justin Webster and 10 from Jordan McCabe.
The Broncos (24-8) had all five starters score in double figures, with Naje Smith leading the way with 18 points.
The Rebels trailed 50-34 at halftime after a barrage of 3-pointers from Boise State (10-for-14). The Broncos, with 22-point leads twice, made 19 of 27 first-half shots (70.4%) and shot 30-for-58 overall (51.7%).
“At halftime there was a sense that the guys knew we were going to chip away, chip away at it,” UNVL coach Kevin Kruger said. “And in the second half we did. We could have let it go in the other direction, but the guys did an unbelievable job of fighting and competing.”
UNLV roared back with a strong defensive effort, limiting Boise State to 8-for-26 shooting (30.8%) in the second half.
Harkless, when asked about what kind of halftime message Kruger had for the team, said: “Stay together. Don’t let that first half define us … We’ve always fought back, so that was our biggest message. … We gave a very good Boise State team a good fight.”
UNLV had a 21-8 scoring edge in the first nine minutes of the second half to close to within three, 58-55. Harkless had three baskets and a pair of free throws in the outburst, and Webster, McCabe, Nowell and Luis Rodriguez each sank 3s.
The Rebels were playing their third straight overtime game, and Webster said he didn’t think fatigue played into their performance, especially during the comeback.
“In hose type of games, I don’t think you really feel it.” he said. “The adrenalin is pumping, and the only thing you’re just trying to do is get the win.
“I mean, I feel it now.”
In what Broncos coach Leon Rice called a “great college basketball game,” Nowell’s 3 pointer, an off-balance heave from the corner, beat the buzzer and tied the score at 73-73 at the end of regulation. Marcus Shaver scored on a 3 and a free throw — the Broncos’ final four points of regulation — before Rodriguez made a 3 with 1:14 left to set the stage for a pulsating finish.
“Our guys are so resilient we just talked about hey, we got to go win it twice,” said Rice after Nowell’s shot. “So that’s what we did.”
UNLV was limited to a layup and free throw by Webster in the overtime, and Smith countered for the Broncos with a 3, three free throws and a key defensive rebound.
Kruger also called it a “great game” and said he couldn’t be more proud of his group.
“Even being down there early, just did everything they needed to do to give themselves a chance to win the game,” he said.