The UNLV men’s basketball team continued its longest road trip of the season capturing a rare road win in its latest outing.
UNLV beat San Jose State, 76-60, Friday, Feb. 19 from the Provident Credit Union Event Center.
“Our freshmen had really good games today,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “I thought [freshman guard] Devin Tillis, in his first start, was tremendous.
The Runnin’ Rebels have now won their last seven games against the Spartans and have not lost since Feb. of 2017.
It was the first true home game for San Jose State in a game where UNLV got its second road win.
The Rebels are now 9-11 overall and 6-7 in the Mountain West conference.
“Really we just need to keep our energy up,” freshman Devin Tillis said. “Really, we’re looking to convert on the defensive end more -- it’s been a little poor lately. But we’re trying to build on that because when we get stops on defense, we convert on offense.”
These two teams will conclude their two-game series Sunday, Feb. 21 with tip-off scheduled for 1 p.m.
“It’s extremely important, it’s for our guys to keep growing as a team, as a program,” Otzelberger said. “It’s important to have that momentum as you move forward at this point in the season. As a coach, you want your team to keep getting better and make progress and for a lot of reasons it’s important that we do that.”
UNLV displayed dominance for the majority of the game but held a narrow lead after the first 20 minutes of play.
The Rebels built a lead as large as nine points in the first half, going on a 11-0 run over a 3:23-span.
“I just think our urgency wasn’t great,” Otzelberger said. “We kind of settled into a rhythm and then [San Jose State] did a great job of disrupting that rhythm. We prepared for it coming in but I thought we were just a little bit flat-footed [and] a step behind.”
At halftime, UNLV led by three points despite shooting 52 percent from the field and holding San Jose State to 36 percent.
By the end of the game, it ended up being a 55 percent to 36 percent advantage for the road team.
Although, the Rebels did commit 10 turnovers in the first half before ending the night with 18 in total.
On the other hand, the Spartans finished with eight turnovers.
All of this was done with leading scorer Bryce Hamilton being held scoreless until through the first 16-plus minutes of the game.
“The way they play zone it’s hard to decipher if it's 1-3-1 or a 2-3 because they start 1-3-1 and then they shift to 2-3,” Tillis said. “We really thought it was a 2-3 zone at first because usually what happens is they shift down and then they have the guards back up.”
Hamilton heated up in the second half scoring six points in the first four and a half minutes after halftime.
During that stretch UNLV would build its lead to double-digits.
He finished with 18 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field and seven rebounds.
Tillis played a big role in the win after receiving his first start of his collegiate career.
“[Otzelberger] just came up to me and said, ‘We have a lot of trust in you. We’re going to keep coming to you down in the post. I just need you to get it done on the defensive end and rebounding,’” Tillis said. “‘And just go out there and play hard.”
Tillis scored 14 points on a nearly perfect 6-for-7 from the field to go along with four rebounds and three assists.
At one point in the second half, Tillis was fouled in the post converting the and-one along the way.
The next play, he made the cross-court pass to junior guard David Jenkins Jr. on the wing for a three-pointer.
“I was able to be so successful in the post because all my guys on the perimeter were moving great,” Tillis said. “I had cutters on the backside so all the attention was on them. So I was able to take my time, play slow and get my shot up or even find the open guy on the perimeter.”
Jenkins scored 16 points with three made three-pointers off-the-bench while sophomore forward Moses Wood added 11 points on a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor.
Both contributed to a 29-0 advantage in bench points for the Rebels.
Mountain West conference leading scorer Richard Washington was held to 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field as part of the defensive dominance by UNLV.
The Rebels won the rebounding battle, 45-25 and were +14 in the paint.