Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 | 10:45 p.m.
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BOISE — The Rebels had four options, which is more than they probably deserved after a dreadful start.
When Boise State’s Derrick Marks missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw attempt with 23 seconds left, Bryce Dejean-Jones grabbed the rebound with UNLV suddenly in a game-winning situation. UNLV coach Dave Rice didn’t have any timeouts left, so when he sent his team out for Marks’ first attempt he had to prepare for them to be down anywhere from one to three.
The deficit, once as big as 12 with 13 minutes to play, was only one when Dejean-Jones made an outlet pass to Anthony Marshall, who put the Rebels into Rice’s called set.
Dejean-Jones set a screen at the top of the key for Marshall, who could have faked a handoff and gone to the rim. Dejean-Jones could have rolled off the pick and taken his man one-on-one in isolation. And after passing Marshall could have set a flare screen for Anthony Bennett on the wing and then slipped to the basket. Marshall said those were three options on the play.
The one the Rebels took was Marshall spacing out to the right and passing to Dejean-Jones, who found Bennett for a spot-up 3-point attempt on the left wing with about 15 seconds left. Bennett missed, and with it UNLV (17-5, 4-3) missed its chance to steal a game it never led or even tied after 0-0.
Boise State’s (15-6, 3-4) free throws iced the game and a 77-72 victory that set off a brief court storm from the student section at Taco Bell Arena.
“They took away the other options and (Bennett) was wide open,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said about the game’s crucial play.
Just how open Bennett was could be debated but there’s no doubt he got a pretty good look at a shot that would have put UNLV up by two, a shot that had Rice’s absolute blessing.
“I want Anthony Bennett to shoot that ball every single time,” Rice said. “We got a great shot and the next time he has that shot he’ll make it.”
Bennett finished with a game-high 25 points, 19 of them coming in the second half. He went into full takeover mode with about 7 minutes left, when Bennett hurt Boise State with jumpers in the hole of the zone defense and great position in the post. For a time Bennett was getting anything he wanted near the basket, which is why his final shot seemed strange.
Everyone figured he would be the guy to take it, just not from that spot. After the game Bennett’s recollection of that possession wasn’t nearly as crisp as Marshall’s.
“I just remember I took the three and I missed it,” said Bennett, who added he thought it was a good look. “I’m not sure what play was called.”
Rice said he didn’t want to post up Bennett in that spot because he was concerned about getting double-teamed. Marshall racked up a few of his 12 assists on post feeds to Bennett down the stretch, but he didn’t say he would have liked to try setting up Bennett closer to the basket.
“We just went off the coach’s decision,” Marshall said. “That’s the play he drew up and that’s the play he wanted, for (Bennett) to get a jump shot. We’re all confident in (Bennett).”
Marshall set up the Rebels’ opportunity on the previous possession with a 3 that cut the deficit to one. Those were UNLV’s only points in the final 2:37. Marshall finished with 18 points on 6-of-9 shooting and just two turnovers, one of the only players who showed up the entire night.
While Rice was OK with Bennett’s shot, he called the Rebels’ start “inexcusable.” Khem Birch committed two fouls in the first 1:06, forcing him to sit on the bench while Boise racked up points in the paint, and UNLV trailed by nine less than four minutes into the game. The Rebels lacked energy and urgency against a team that clearly played better with regular starter Jeff Elorriaga (11 points in 40 minutes) back in the lineup.
“That’s not the way a team that’s trying to win a league championship approaches the start of a game on the road,” Rice said.
UNLV tailed by five with 4:07 left before halftime when Mike Moser committed a foul on the Broncos’ Anthony Drmic (22 points) at the rim. Drmic had leaked out for an easy layup attempt and Moser, who was the closest Rebel but far behind the play, gave chase and ended up hitting Drmic in the face with his open right hand.
One ref immediately put up a sign for an intentional foul, and after reviewing the tape the refs conferred and told Rice they didn’t think Moser made any play on the ball, issuing him a flagrant two foul that comes with an automatic ejection. Unless the Mountain West adds an additional punishment then Moser, who had to watch the rest of the game from the locker room with his mom in attendance, should be OK to play Wednesday at Fresno State (7-13, 1-6).
The Rebels now go into that contest a full two games behind first-place New Mexico (19-3, 6-1), which defeated UNR on Saturday.
The end of this game didn’t go the Rebels’ way but Rice isn’t likely to harp on it in the film room. UNLV battled back and put the ball in its best player’s hands. That start and a usually stellar defense that gave up a lot of easy looks is where he will spend his time.
“The reason why we’re so frustrated is that it took us forever to get going,” Rice said. “We knew that Boise State was going to be a desperate team.”
And the Rebels didn’t match that desperation, especially at the beginning. Well, most of them didn’t. And to win close games on the road UNLV needs everybody to step up and provide better options.
“It can’t be one or two guys going out and playing their hardest and the rest not following,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to do it as a team.”