By Robert Weiler
LAS VEGAS — The BYU men?s basketball team proved they still have plenty of fight left in them, even if it means playing more than 40 minutes.
The Cougars stepped up in critical moments with, hitting timely shots and creating turnovers down the stretch before going on a rampage in overtime to beat UNLV 82-72.
?I couldn?t be more proud of this group,? BYU head coach Steve Cleveland said. ?They could have easily gone away in the second half. As a coach, these are the things that are the most special.?
After a Derek Dawes miss with nine seconds remaining, Jimmy Balderson picked up the rebound and was sandwiched on a three-point attempt.
Balderson, who missed the first two of three free-throws earlier in the game, calmly sank all three to give BYU a two-point lead. The lead was critical because UNLV?s Jarel Blassingame drove the lane, challenged Dawes and scooped a lay-up over his arms to send the game into extra minutes at 63-63.
That?s when Austin Ainge took the game into his hands. The sophomore guard gave the Cougars an early lead and scored 12 of BYU?s 19 points in overtime, including five of six free throws in the closing minute to deny the Rebels any chance for a comeback. Ainge finished the game with 19 points, taking only one shot attempt in the second half.
?That?s what we need from our point guard,? said Jimmy Balderson, who led the Cougars in scoring.
Balderson and Ainge were just two of a handful of players who stepped up on key possessions. Balderson had a career-high 23 points, hitting five 3?s and tied a career-high on the boards with seven, including the rebound following Dawes? miss.
Dawes, playing with four fouls the last eight minutes of the half, led the team with nine rebounds and forced UNLV to take bad shots in the final minute of the game. Mike Hall, who had another rough shooting night, frustrated Blassingame all day and had five steals, two of which came in the last four minutes of regulation.
UNLV had control of the game for most of the second half but did not have a field goal in the final five minutes of the game until Blassingame?s game-tying shot. Odartey Blankson carried the Cougars with 33 points and 13 rebounds while Dustin Villepigue contributed 10 points and seven boards off the bench for the Rebels, but the Rebels went 3-of-17 from three-point range and had 14 turnovers after the break.
COUGAR TRACKS: Saturday?s game was the first time BYU had played in overtime since last February against San Diego State. … The win was only the second win out of the state for the Cougars. … The BYU coaching staff all wore sneakers during the game as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer Awareness Day. … BYU?s 10-point win was the closest margin of victory this season. … Sophomore forward Garner Meads was limited to three minutes playing time because of an injury, but is expected to be ready for Monday?s game.