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Runnin’ Rebels riding three-game win streak after latest sweep of Lobos

A scoring stretch by guard Bryce Hamilton along with a late defensive stand, resulted in a sweep of a conference rival by UNLV amidst a three-game win streak.

The Runnin’ Rebels defeated the New Mexico Lobos, 53-46, Monday, Jan. 18 in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day contest from the Thomas & Mack Center.

“Coming into this game we were just focusing on the little details that [New Mexico] got us in the first game,” senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong said. “We emphasized being in the gaps, helping each other when they drive because they’re all drivers so we were just trying to plug the paint and rebound.”

The win gives UNLV the season sweep of New Mexico and have won the last six meetings against the program.

The Lobos are 1-8 in their last nine games.

“We knew it'd be chippy in the second game of the series like this, there’s always going to be a little bit more edge to it ,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “Probably one of the uglier college basketball games, if not the ugliest one I’ve ever been a part of. But we’re fortunate to be on the right side of that game and at this point of the year and in conference play a win is a win so we’ll take it.”

Now, the Rebels are 4-6 on the year after starting the season 0-4 and now sporting a 2-2 conference record good for fifth in the Mountain West.

New Mexico entered the game in 10th place and without a conference win and are still in search of their first.

The homestand continues for UNLV as it gets ready to welcome in Benedictine Mesa Thursday, Jan. 21.

Following that, the Rebels get back to Mountain West action as the Utah State Aggies come to town for a two-game series.

“I think [chippiness] is part of it right?” Otzelberger said. “We all have this mindset from the first game of what happened, what we need to correct, maybe some calls we didn’t think went our way that we want to change for that second game. There’s also rivalries and things that develop between individual players and certain teams.

“I think that’s something you’re going to see with the back-to-back games, there’s just a different element there. We’ve got to be better at handling it as we move forward.”

Hamilton led the team with 14 points on 7-of-15 from the field including making four of his last five attempts.

“Credit to [Hamilton], we knew we were going to come to him late,” Otzelberger said. “We were going to get it in his hands on the left side of the court. He did a great job making the plays down the stretch, a few big baskets that we needed to ensure victory.”

The game was tied when he scored eight straight points down-the-stretch for UNLV, giving the Rebels a seven-point lead by the end of it.

“Hamilton can make tough shots from anywhere,” Mbake said. “When it comes to winning time, he was there -- he was present. We use him every time at the end of the shot clock, end of a game. He’s always there offensively to show and get stops [on the other end].”

Toward the end of the game, Hamilton was seen favoring one of his ankles before heading to the sideline.

“I think he turned his ankle a little bit,” Otzelberger said. “He was with our trainer right after the game. We’ll try to get it diagnosed to know exactly what’s going on and what we’ll need to do from a treatment standpoint to get him back as quick as possible moving forward.”

Getting everyone rest and recovery time is first and foremost for a program that has played five games in 12 days.

The second half burst from Hamilton comes after he was held to just two points in the first half.

He was not the only player to struggle in the first 20 minutes as the entire UNLV team struggled to gain an offensive rhythm.

“After the first game, I think they did a good job of not letting us get the ball deep down in the paint,” Mbacke said. “They got us tonight but we got other guys like [Hamilton], [freshman guard Nick Blake] and [freshman forward Devin Tillis] step up.”

After setting a new career-high in the last game, Mbacke was held to just one field goal attempt in the first 30-plus minutes.

“First of all, we’ve got to do a better job as a team getting him the ball in spots where he can score because he’s been so effective for us,” Otzelberger said. “His leadership, his intelligence and his growth as a player has continued to take a step.”

Despite the ebbs and flows on the offensive end, Mbacke explained being committed to the task at hand, which is winning.

“Finding any ways to win,” Mbacke said. “If the defense gives us the opportunity to score, we’re going to take it and use it. Tonight, they didn’t get us opportunities so we were just there to rebound, get guys open, get guys going, get a stop and keep pushing. Find a way to win every time.”

Mbacke finished with six points, 10 rebounds and a steal.

His output on the floor helped UNLV fight back to tie the rebounding battle at 36-36 before the final buzzer.

All nine players recorded at least one rebound while five had four or more.

Mbacke also helped head the final defensive stand by the Rebels that resulted in the win.

“The message was to shrink the floor every time,” Mbacke said. “The message was to plug the paint, stay there and close out short on threes.”

New Mexico leading scorer Makuach Maluach had the UNLV defense collapse on him in the paint which allowed sophomore Caleb Grill to play the passing lanes for the steal.

“From a defensive standpoint [Grill] and Mbacke are both guys that are fierce competitors,’ Otzelberger said. “Mbacke’s done so much to protect the rim and make sure that guys don’t get easy baskets. [Grill] flies around on defense all the time, he read that play all the way and got a big steal. Those are two guys that bring it everyday, they bring their best effort and it’s not surprising to me when they’re effort translates to big plays on defense late.”

The Rebels forced 20 total turnovers in the game while committing 15 of their own.

Maluach is the only Lobo player who averages double-digit scoring.

He was held to nine points on 3-of-12 shooting including going 2-for-7 from three-point range.

Additional Note

Freshman guard Nick Blake scored 10 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

He has scored in double figures in back-to-back games for the first time in his collegiate career.

The two games against New Mexico mark the first time he’s scored in double figures since the season opener against Montana State.


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