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Hamilton returns with double-double as Runnin’ Rebels end losing streak

It was the ultimate test of strength versus finesse in UNLV’s most recent win over Air Force.

The Runnin’ Rebels beat the Falcons, 68-58, Saturday, Feb. 6 from the Thomas & Mack Center to end a three-game losing streak.

“I think overall, they’re a team that doesn’t really play the scoreboard,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “They run their stuff, they play their defense and you don’t see them deviating.”

For the second consecutive home game, UNLV had some fans in attendance. This time the Rebel Girls, UNLV Cheer and UNLV Pom were admitted as well.

With the win, the Rebels are now 7-9 on the season and 4-5 in the Mountain West conference.

Game two of the two-game series against the Falcons will take place Monday, Feb. 8 with tip-off scheduled for 6 p.m.

The Air Force will be looking to end a streak of six straight losses.

After missing both games against in-state rival, the Nevada Wolf Pack, junior guard Bryce Hamilton returned to action for the Rebels.

“It feels good to be back, it’s been a long journey,” he said, “It’s been tough for me to be out the past two games -- especially our rivals. But it feels good to be back and fighting with my teammates to get this win.”

Hamilton responded with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists in his first game action in nearly two weeks.

The performance marked the junior’s fifth career double-double.

His rebound mark was the highest in the game, with the next-closest reeling in five (sophomore forward Moses Wood) as UNLV won the rebounding battle, 33-19.

Despite the final score, the game was tied at 46 with about 10 minutes left in regulation before sophomore guard Caleb Grill scored five straight points including knocking down UNLV’s first three-pointer of the game.

That three ran the Rebels’ streak to 1,118 consecutive games with a made three-pointer after missing their first three.

“We’re really aware of it,” Hamilton said. “That won’t happen next time, I’m pretty sure we scared a lot of people. But we were aware of it and we’re going to do better.”

Grill finished with 9 points on 2-of-10- shooting from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.

“I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it -- I know we’ve got a good shooting team, that’s one of the strengths of ours,” Otzelberger said. “I remember looking at halftime and saying, ‘We’re 0-for-9’ and I never thought about the streak. We’ve got to play to win.

“Fortunately, [Grill] he the one he did, I guess, because I’m sure they were a lot of other folks watching the game saying, ‘They better make a three and not mess this streak up here,’ but I guess I just wasn’t one of them.’”

UNLV shot 2-of-14 from three-point range.

On the other end, the Air Force was ready and willing to let it fly from deep.

It wasn’t until the 10:52 mark of the first half that the Falcons attempted their first two-point field goal after nine straight three-point attempts to start the game.

“What we’re choosing to do is play more pack line concepts to try to keep the ball off the baseline,” Otzelberger said. “I think why we’re not great at defending the three at times is our awareness. We get beat off-the-bounce too easily, we’ve got to do a better job guarding the dribble one-on-one. And I think we have the tendency to overhelp when we do.”

The Air Force finished the game making 14 of their 30 attempts from three, while UNLV went 2-for-14.

“That’s something that we’ve just got to be better at,” Hamilton said. “Just knowing who the three-point shooters are and just being able to close them out and make them dribble.”

For the Rebels, paint domination was the response, ending the first half with a 24-2 paint advantage.

As it often does in these conference matchups, the chess match was front stage as UNLV opted for a 1-2-2 defense in an effort to offset the zone defense of the Air Force.

The lead was only three at halftime for the Rebels before extending the lead to 13 points prior to the tie at 46.

Coming into the game, William Hill had UNLV as -13.5 point favorites.

“Just getting stops, we emphasized stops for this game,” Hamilton said. “We started out well [...] but then we let them come back with seven straight possessions with scores but we got stops to the end to get the win.”

Junior guard David Jenkins Jr. was moved to the bench with Hamilton returning to the starting lineup for the Rebels.

Jenkins played a team-low 17 minutes and scored just two points on four field goal attempts.

UNLV, however, was aided by double-digit scoring efforts from senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong and freshman guard Nick Blake.

Mbacke scored 16 points on 8-of-10 from the field to go along with two blocks.

Blake scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting and was tied with Hamilton for team-high in assists with five.

“It feels good to showcase my abilities to do more than just offense,” Hamilton said. “I like being able to create for my teammates to get them points, that’s just something I like to do.”


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