LAS VEGAS - Mental toughness is one ingredient of a good road basketball team.
Nevada showed plenty of that in the closing minutes en route to a 68-61 nonconference road win over arch-rival UNLV before a partisan crowd of 14,602 at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday night.
The Pack, ranked 22nd in the Associated Press poll, improved to 3-0. Nevada, which won for the third straight year over UNLV, continues its four-game road swing Thursday at Kansas. The Pack have won 11 straight road games dating back to last season.
This was as close as the score indicated. The Pack needed two foul shots by Marcelus Kemp (24 points) and one by Ramon Sessions (9 points) to close out the game.
"The defense was strong out there at the end of the game," Nevada coach Mark Fox said. "We didn't have an easy week. It was a long trip to Vermont, and coming here we had some flight problems.
"We've been through some tough battles, and our experienced players were out there at the end."
The key to the win in Fox's opinion was the Pack's ability to stand firm, especially in the second half.
"They made a run and we answered them," Fox said. "Then we played outstanding defense and took care of the ball."
UNLV's first run came midway in the second half. The Rebels chopped a 48-39 lead to 48-47 with 9:52 remaining. The sequences weren't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, and the three turnovers were just part of the 24 Nevada committed.
It started with a layup by Jo'Van Adams, who came off the bench to score nine points. After a turnover by Nick Fazekas, Adams drove the lane for another layup to make it 48-43. Nevada turned the ball over again, and Gaston Essengue dropped in a putback, slicing the lead to 48-45. Louis Amundson blocked a Fazekas shot on the next possession, and Curtis Terry's lean-in jumper knocked the lead down to one.
The huge crowd was waiting for the Pack to crumble. Not going to happen, especially with Kemp around.
Kemp stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer, and after UNLV missed two shots on the ensuing possession, he worked inside for a layup. After UNLV missed from point-blank range, Mo Charlo (18 points) was fouled and dropped in both shots to extend the lead to eight, 55-47.
UNLV went on a 9-2 run to cut the Pack's lead to 59-56, as Adams knocked down a big 3-pointer.
It was Kemp to the rescue again. He scored on back-to-back possessions to make it 61-56 with 4:15 left. With the score 63-59, UNLV had two chances from the line to make it a one-possession game. Michael Umeh (18 points) and Dustin Villepigue each missed two foul shots.
After a turnover by Nevada, Adams drove the lane and had his shot swatted by Fazekas.
"They had been running that same play," Fazekas said. "He wanted to jump into me. I jumoped back a bit and got a piece of the ball."
Kemp drained two free throws with 26 seconds left to make it 65-59, and UNLV never got any closer.
"It was a hard-fought game," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "Credit goes to Nevada. They did a good job fighting off our runs in the second half.
"The free throws were critical. We had a chance to get it to a one-possession game and we didn't do it. It's part of the experience."
One of the reasons UNLV's comeback attempted short-circuited was Kemp. The sophomore, who didn't start, hit 9 for 14 from the field, including two 3-pointers.
"I guess I just score in spurts," said Kemp, who at one time scored 10 of Nevada's points in the final 20 minutes. "They were really on Nick, and that left me with some open shots, and I was able to take advantage of it.
"I kind of expected this (to score well). I worked hard over the summer; really worked on my shot."
While Kemp provided the second-half spark, it was Charlo (18 points) who gave the Pack an early lift.
Charlo scored nine of the Pack's first 14 points, and finished the first 20 minutes with 12 points.
Despite his early outburst, UNLV's defense tightened up, holding Nevada without a point for about four minutes.
"Their defense is very good," Fox said. "They can stop anybody with that kind of pressure.."
The game was tied seven times in the first half. Nevada finally broke through with a 9-0 run in the final 4 minutes 9 seconds to take a 33-25 lead.
Lyndale Burleson keyed the run, knocking down a single free throw to tie the game at 25. Kemp scored to give Nevada the lead, and Burleson drained a 3-pointer for a 30-25 advantage. Charlo, after two Nevada turnovers, converted a three-point play with 1:03 left, making it 33-25.
The lead stayed between six and eight until UNLV went on its 8-0 run to close to 48-47, but the Pack answered the bell much to the chagrin of the large crowd.
"It's fun to play these type of games," Charlo said. "I love playing in front of big crowds. It's what Division I college basketball is all about. This was a big win for us."