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UNLV's Barry Cheaney (5) fights for a rebound on a free throw (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)
UNLV's Barry Cheaney (5) fights for a rebound on a free throw (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Shorthanded Rebels Overcome Falcons in Triple-Overtime Classic

By Barbara Farkas
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Forty minutes of basketball wasn’t enough for UNLV and Air Force in the opening round of the 2016 Men’s Mountain West Tournament. After 55 minutes of basketball, a depleted UNLV roster that finished the game with three scholarship players and two walk-ons defeated an exhausted Air Force, 108-102 on Wednesday afternoon.

This what March is all about.

UNLV's Ike Nwamu (34) drives on two Air Force defenders during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

UNLV’s Ike Nwamu (34) drives on two Air Force defenders during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

 

Sophomore guard Patrick McCaw was all over the floor for the Rebels, notching his third career double-double with 27 points and 14 rebounds.  

“The growth the team has shown in those areas from early in the year to now is just tremendous,” interim head coach Todd Simon said. “The guys consistently demonstrate that they can overcome stuff, that they’re not going to get rattled, they will dig and find it. I think that’s obviously what won the game for us today.”

“They had some guys in foul trouble, so our coach was telling us to make sure we get down, either get fouled, make free throws or get to the basket,” said senior guard Ike Nwamu, who finished the game with a career-high 38 points and eight rebounds while going 16-of-19 at the free-throw line. Where Nwamu shined for the Rebels, it took an effort by two unlikely standouts to push UNLV to victory, the walk-ons.

Unsung heroes were walk-on guards Barry Cheaney and Austin Starr were called upon to step in and take on a sizable load after the Rebels endured foul trouble in the second half and they delivered.

Barry Cheaney (5) draws contact with an Air Force defender late in the second half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Barry Cheaney (5) draws contact with an Air Force defender late in the second half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

The duo combined for just five points, but each player made critical hustle plays down the stretch, including a crucial steal by Cheaney late in regulation to prevent Air Force from scoring and push the game to overtime that would eventually lead the Rebels to victory.

How about a good comeback story?

Air Force guard Jacob Van single-handedly kept the Falcons in the game despite having all their starters finish in double-figures.

Van scored six of the Falcons nine points in the first overtime driving past UNLV defenders for easy looks in the post but lost possession of the ball in the final seconds as Air Force’s Frank Toohey battled for a loose ball against Jerome Seagears. What happened next left not just fans dumbfounded but media as well. Toohey was called for his fifth foul on a loose ball. A foul that should’ve sent the Rebels to the line with .4 seconds left in overtime, however, after conferencing around the monitor for several minutes, the officials ruled the foul was a possession foul saying it was “team controlled,” therefore, no free throws.

UNLV was up by as many as eight in the second overtime after Nwamu capped both free-throws with 25 seconds to play. After a few back-and-forth possessions were exchanged, Van drove down the court for a pull-up trey to tie the game and proceeded to make contact with guard Jordan Cornish, who picked up his fifth foul, finishing the night with a career-high 20 points, including 5-of-7 from three. Van made all three clutch free throws. With a chance to be the hero, McCaw’s potential buzzer beater would turn out to be an air-balled finger roll.

Three overtimes it is.

“I realized if my shots are short, I need to attack the basket and that’s going to give us the best chance to get points and get back in the game,” said Van.

Fatigue started to set in for Air Force and the Rebels played like they didn’t want their season to end. Zach Kocur’s trey tied the game with 2:47 to play and on the other end he fouled Nwamu, who would hit both free throws. Freshman walk-on Austin Starr took a charge from Dezmond James that would set up the Rebels for a 7-2 run to put UNLV up 103-97 with 21 seconds to play, a deficit too large for the Falcons to overcome.

“We had two walk-ons, but that’s still part of our team,” McCaw said when asked about finishing the game with just three scholarship players. “It’s a strong bond that we’ve had and that we’ve grown through the whole season. We’ve been through so much as a team; everybody gets along and has fun together. They brought the same energy and effort and that was huge for us.”

UNLV's Pat McCaw (22) and Air Force's Hayden Graham (Right) conference with official Dave Hall (Left) during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

UNLV’s Pat McCaw (22) and Air Force’s Hayden Graham (Right) conference with official Dave Hall (Left) during the first half (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Nwamu scored 12 of his 38 points in the third period, capping off UNLV’s win with a dunk right before the (actual) final buzzer. He never sat during the contest playing 55 minutes alongside McCaw.

But, it wasn’t just senior starters Nwamu and Seagears that shined in the Rebels overtime win.

No, it was Cheaney’s hustle play in the final minutes of the second half that was arguably the defensive play of the Rebels season.

Freshmen Rebels Jalen Poyser and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. both fouled out two-minutes apart midway through the second half on questionable plays but UNLV used a 7-2 run to get UNLV back within 2. With a 1:47 to play, Cheaney managed a steal and set McCaw up with a turnaround jumper to tie the game at 65. After the Rebels went up 3 off of Cornish’s free throws, Van easily got in the post without Zimmerman’s presence to score back-to-back layups. Nwamu took the ball up the court but couldn’t finish around the rim and it sent the game into overtime.

Ike Nwamu (34) dunks as an Air Force defender looks on in the waning seconds of the third overtime (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Ike Nwamu (34) dunks as an Air Force defender looks on in the waning seconds of the third overtime (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

“Obviously [Cheaney] goes in and steps up and he really keyed a few of the plays that sparked us in the comeback after the end of regulation,” said Simon. “And fronting the post and getting a hand on a loose ball, saving a ball from going out of bounds, these are all winning plays.”

Walking off victorious after the conference’s first ever three overtime game, it was the perfect game at the perfect time to encompass what Rebel basketball has been all season long: an emotional roller-coaster.

Follow Barbara on Twitter for more on UNLV Men’s and Women’s Basketball @b__farkas

Barry Cheaney (Left) walks off smiling with Jalen Poyser (Right) after defeating Air Force 108-102 in the opening round of the 2016 Mountain West Championships (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

Barry Cheaney (Left) walks off smiling with Jalen Poyser (Right) after defeating Air Force 108-102 in the opening round of the 2016 Mountain West Tournament (Photo: Jeremy Rincon)

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