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Air Force follows familiar script in loss to UNLV as Rebels pull away late

February 14, 2018 Updated: February 15, 2018 at 7:29 am
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LAS VEGAS - Dave Pilipovich stopped Jovan Mooring in the hallway outside Air Force's locker room with a message for the UNLV senior.

"I'm going to come to your graduation," Pilipovich said, offering a hug to the player his team can't seem to stop. "Just to make sure you graduate."

Mooring casually responded, "You won't have to see me anymore coach."

The Falcons can at least take that from this.

Mooring made the big plays again, scoring 24 points and hitting a key 3-pointer in the closing minutes to give separation in a tight game as the Runnin' Rebels pulled away for a 81-73 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.

This is the same player who forced overtime in a win last year in this building with a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer. He also made critical shots at Clune Arena in January as UNLV pulled away in a game that followed a similar script.

"I tell you what, he's pretty good against those guys," UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said afterward.

Right now, UNLV's been good against everyone. The Rebels (19-7, 8-5 Mountain West) have won five of six, with the lone loss coming in overtime at Boise State.

"That may be the best team in the league right now," Pilipovich said.

And that's what makes this so frustrating for an Air Force team that is more than ready to move past the days when close is good enough.

The Falcons (10-14, 4-8) struggled to get the ball inside and were shooting blanks from the outside, opening 1 of 8 and falling in a 15-point hole. But then, spurred by 11 first-half points from Ryan Manning and a 19-point night from Trevor Lyons, Air Force got back in the game. They closed within three late in the first half, then were within one point on multiple occasions late, but UNLV made four straight shots - including Mooring's deep 3 - and closed it.

"We're just one play away," said Lyons, who became the 25th Falcon to score 1,000 career points. "That's what makes it so frustrating."

The Falcons were outrebounded 52-25 and outscored 30-16 in the paint. The Rebels also outscored the visitors 22-8 from the free-throw line. All those numbers point the UNLV's ability to capitalize on its height advantage.

On the flip side, Air Force forced 18 turnovers while committing eight.

But, really, you can throw out all those numbers. All that matters is that with 2:40 remaining there was a stoppage in play with Air Force trailing by one point. It was UNLV that came alive at that point, and Air Force did not.

The Falcons are tired of that outcome against the upper crust of the league, as it has happened now against Nevada, Boise State and twice against UNLV this season.

"I know I'm speaking for the entire team when I say we don't like being losers," said Ryan Swan, the sophomore center who scored 16 points. "Losing just eats at us inside. We'll probably be thinking about this loss all night."

At least they won't have to think about Mooring anymore, though Pilipovich just might follow through on that promise to show up in May just to make sure the longtime tormentor indeed graduates and moves on.

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