He ran into a box-out and fell down. That was the foul called.
Utah State’s basketball team led once all game, and it was the only time that mattered, departing the Thomas & Mack Center with an 87-86 victory against UNLV before a stunned Saturday afternoon gathering of 5,992.
The call came with 8.4 seconds remaining as Utah State hit a 3-pointer to climb within one. UNLV senior Kalib Boone prepared to box out with the shot in flight when Utah State star Great Osobor made contact from behind and fell to the court.
Boone was called for an infraction. It was a (really) soft whistle at best.
Osobor then made two free throws for the one-point advantage, and it was officially over when UNLV freshman Dedan Thomas missed an elbow jumper from 15 feet as time expired.
Nothing to say
“Disappointing result,” UNLV coach Kevin Kruger said. “The guys played hard and competed and played well enough to win the game.
“There’s nothing you can say to them after a loss like that. There’s nothing you can tell them. Tell them you love them and that we have to keep working hard — keep working and we’ll be back in the gym tomorrow.”
Hey, give Osobor credit for falling down once contact was made. It was obviously enough to sell the official. But that’s a tough call to make. Not just because it was in the final seconds instead of, say, the first half.
It’s not obvious. Not in the least. Not close to being so.
It just happened to go against UNLV — which led by four with 14 seconds remaining — at the absolute worst time.
This was per lead official Deldre Carr: “The 3-point shot was released prior to the common foul on UNLV. Therefore, the 3-point shot counts and the common foul was penalized with two shots per rule AR 265.”
It wasn’t the only controversial play. An out-of-bounds call with 1:44 left in a six-point game went against UNLV when the ball appeared to touch a Utah State player last.
Utah State responded with a 3.
And yet the Rebels can also look elsewhere as to why the 20th-ranked Aggies escaped.
UNLV’s second-half play was a big reason.
It didn’t defend well enough down the stretch to increase the margin past where Utah State couldn’t rally.
The Rebels also had far too many wasted possessions — they shot just 36 percent over the final 20 minutes and 44 percent for the game — to keep Utah State away. UNLV struggled against a 1-3-1 look. Struggled getting good enough shots. Struggled converting. Too many jumpers. Not enough from inside.
It was also the worst sort of day for UNLV when it came to how Utah State shot. The Aggies aren’t any good from 3-point range, but had their best day against a Division I opponent this season in making 48 percent.
Ian Martinez was especially good. The senior guard made 6 of 8 3s and scored 24. Osobor also had 24, to go along with 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. He’s a 66 percent career free-throw shooter. He made 12 of 13, including the two decisive ones to win it.
A tough loss
This is the type of result where Kruger needs to now lean on his senior leadership. The Rebels don’t have time to wallow. They next play at Boise State and at 17th-ranked Colorado State.
The Mountain West is a bear of a conference at the top this season.
“At some point you’re going to have tough losses,” Kruger said. “You hope they can get through it a little quicker and get ready to move on.”
The Rebels nearly did so with a win, those final 8.4 seconds seeing Thomas — who finished with 10 points and career-best 11 assists — advance the ball up court before driving left, pulling up and hitting back iron on the final attempt.
“We’ll take (Thomas) taking that shot not only at the end of games but most possessions,” Kruger said.
“… There’s nothing you can say with the way that game ended. A tough loss. We went in and complimented them on playing hard for 40 minutes. We always say to give ourselves a chance to win a ballgame. I thought we did that today.”
Ed Graney, a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing, can be reached at email@example.com. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on X.