West Virginia continued to battle and hold a narrow lead through the game's final minutes, but UNLV finally took the lead on a Marcus Banks three point play with 14 seconds to play. Josh Yeager, who scored 17 first half points, got a good look at a potential game tying three in the final seconds, but was unable to get the shot to go down.
"We had a few breakdowns, and were just unable to get a shot to go down," head coach John Beilein said of the closing minutes. "I love the fact that we had 16 assists and that we played so hard."
The first half was a study in contrasts, with West Virginia's patient offense matched against Vega' run and gun style. When WVU ran their offense and exhibited patience, the Mountaineers did well. When they sped up their tempo and played at the faster pace favored by the Rebels, UNLV was able to crawl back into the contest. The Rebels forced an uncharacteristically high ten turnovers from West Virginia in the first half.
After early ties at four and six, West Virginia sprinted out to a 23-15 lead, but UNLV battled back to tie the score at 25 with five minutes to go in the first half. The Rebel rally was built on the strength of several offensive rebounds as well as a couple of early opportunity baskets that were keyed by defensive pressure.
"We had real trouble at the guard position today," Beilein noted. "We can't match their quickness at guard. They're bigger, stronger and older than us."
WVU appeared to be in deep trouble, as they got in early foul trouble in the contest. Tyrone Sally, Jarmon Durisseau-Collins, Chaz Briggs and Kevin Pittsnogle all picked up two early first half fouls and Briggs was hit with his third foul just thirty seconds from the end of the opening half.
On the strength of Yeager's play as well as another super stretch from Chaz Briggs, the Mountaineers were able to close the half with a 16-6 run to take a ten point lead into the locker room. Josh Yeager got off to a hot start with a pair of field goals and a three pointer to help WVU out to a 22-15 lead. Yeager totalled 17 points in the first half on 6-7 shooting from the field as he gave West Virginia the kind of offensive boost the coaching staff has been looking for this year.
West Virginia must make a quick turnaround, as they next face Gardner-Webb on Sunday evening at 8:30 EST on the concluding day of the tournament.
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Schifino and Yeager shared WVU game high honors with 17 points. As a team, WVU shot 58% from the field.
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Play by play man Tony Caridi made it to Las Vegas in time to broadcast the second half of the contest. Kyle Wiggs handled play by play duties for the first half.