Of all times for Cal State Fullerton to beat Nevada Las Vegas, this would have been one of the most improbable.
Fullerton had lost four straight games and was off to a 4-9 start that had Coach George McQuarn wondering just how long a season it would be.
But with 12 seconds left Wednesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 4,113 in Titan Gym, Fullerton had a chance to beat UNLV for only the third time in 19 tries.
Trailing, 58-57, Fullerton inbounded the ball to guard Eugene Jackson, who drove down court and passed off to Henry Turner. Turner's 15-foot jump shot bounced off the rim with six seconds left.
In a scramble, the ball went out of bounds on the sideline, and UNLV was awarded possession. Clint Rossum, who was fouled by Richard Morton, made two free throws with three seconds remaining. Karl James intercepted a Fullerton pass and hit a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the Runnin' Rebels a 63-57 win.
For the 13th-ranked Rebels, it was shockingly close.
"I don't feel real good," said Jerry Tarkanian, UNLV coach, after the game.
Fullerton got the ball and a chance to win with 12 seconds left after officials ruled that the 45-second shot clock had expired on UNLV. The Rebels had the ball with the shot clock running down, but Fullerton nearly stole the ball. Officials ruled that the clock should not have been reset, and would therefore have expired in the seconds afterward.
That Fullerton was in a position to win on a night when Morton scored only six points was hard to fathom. Morton, who has carried most of the scoring load this season, averaging 24.7 points, scored fewer than 10 for the first time in the last 30 games. The last time was last Jan. 19, when UNLV defeated Fullerton in Titan Gym. But he made only 2 of 14 shots, and was 0 for 5 from three-point range.
Neither did UNLV's best players shine. Jarvis Basnight, who averages 16.2 points and whose 72% field-goal percentage is among the nation's best, scored only 9, all in the second half, on 2-of-5 shooting.
Gerald Paddio and James led UNLV with 13 points each.
McQuarn said the Titans should have won once they got the ball inbounds on the play with 12 seconds left.
"I really believe when I see the film I will see that Eugene Jackson could have taken it all the way for the basket or a foul," he said. "Eugene gave it to Henry, who missed a 15-foot jumper."
It was Jackson, in part, who put Fullerton in the chase earlier. UNLV's five-point halftime lead had expanded to eight early in the first five minutes of the second half, but then Van Anderson drove the baseline, feeding Oval Miller for a dunk. The Titans forced a turnover, and Jackson drove the lane, scoring to cut it to four.
Keith James missed a jump shot, and Jackson, who averages only six shots a game, buried a 16-footer. Keith James missed again on the other end, and Jackson hit again, tying the score, 40-40, with 11:58 to play.
Fullerton took a two-point lead a little more than a minute later on a 17-foot shot by Bobby Adair, a forward in his first game back after a two-game suspension for disciplinary reasons.
But UNLV pulled out to as much as a six-point lead again. This time Fullerton came back largely behind a couple of baskets off offensive rebounds by Turner, who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Fullerton led, 55-54, on a baseline basket by Jackson with 2:05 remaining, but Anthony Todd's jumper in the lane and his steal and dunk made it 58-55. But a Turner follow off an offensive rebound made it 58-57.
UNLV was running the clock down when the shot-clock call gave Fullerton the ball and one more chance.
Tarkanian, who once employed McQuarn as an assistant at UNLV, praised the Titans.
"Believe me when I tell you Fullerton is not going to lose a lot more," he said. "Our kids fought hard. Fullerton played great defense."
The pace and low-scoring game seemed much in Fullerton's favor. The Rebels had scored less than 70 points only twice this season, and six times had scored more than 100.
But Tarkanian didn't stress the slow pace.
"We can't run," Tarkanian said. "We don't have a point guard. We throw the ball away when we try to run." UNLV (13-1, 4-1) has struggled in four of its five Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. games. The Rebels beat New Mexico State by five points, Cal State Long Beach by three and lost to UC Santa Barbara, but beat UC Irvine easily.
"If we're not up, we're not real good," Tarkanian said.
Fullerton (4-10, 0-5) has lost five straight.
The game marked some changes for the Titans, particularly in scoring. Jackson finished with 12, Vincent Blow had eight, and Anderson scored nine, giving the Titans one of their more balanced scoring nights.
"It makes us feel real good to have played very well against a team of this caliber," Anderson said.
"But I thought, like Coach said, that once we were able to get it in, we could have won."