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UNLV runs out of gas, get upended by Utah State

In an attempt to shake up the NCAA’s Selection Sunday, the UNLV men’s basketball team fell short of an upset bid in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels lost to the Utah State Aggies, 74-53, Thursday, March 12 from the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I was really proud of how our guys came out,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “But to beat a really good team like Utah State is, you’ve got to sustain that for 40 minutes and unfortunately we were not able to do that tonight.”

The loss marks the seventh straight year the program has been bounced from the Mountain West Tournament in the quarterfinals.

Following the game, Otzelberger was asked if he believed his team had more talent than a quarterfinal exit.

“When you evaluate talent, part of that is playing with your hands up, blocking out, sprinting the floor, screening effectively, moving the basketball,” Otzelberger said. “Talent is something that you look at from a lot of different lenses. To me, talent is doing what’s being asked of you every single possession to the best of your ability.

“We obviously recognize that there’s certain players that are taller or can make more shots or have certain physical attributes that -- I also know that with teams, how they fit together is extremely important. Overall as I evaluate the talent on our roster, I think we have some individual players that have some talents that are able to put in-play on the court but for team success those talents have to fit together.”

During his introductory press conference, Otzelberger expressed the desire to schedule nationally in order to secure a better chance at earning an NCAA Tournament berth.

“When we came here it was our aspiration that year-in and year-out we’re competing for championships,” Otzelberger said. “You know, right now the only way I know how to work is to go one day at a time and bring everything you have and put your heart and soul into it. And then hit repeat the next day.”

However, with the season just coming to an end, it is unsure of who will be on the roster when the season starts next year.

“No, I haven’t thought about that at all,” junior guard Bryce Hamilton said. “I was just focusing on the season right now. Now that the season is over, that’s just something that I’ll probably have to think about.” In addition, some may even question if Otzelberger will return next season considering his former school Iowa State may be in the sights of the 43-year-old head coach.

When asked previously about the possibility of returning to the Cyclones, Otzelberger said he did not have a comment at the time.

Despite the lopsided final score, UNLV led by as much as six in the first half and went into halftime tied at 24 apiece.

“We knew tonight in order to win, we’d have to be the more physical team,” Otzelberger said. “Felt like our guys really answered that call in the first half. I thought we had great ball pressure, hand pressure, did an excellent job defensively.”

There was even a stretch where Utah State went nearly six minutes without a point.

“I felt like toward the end of the first half the ball was sticking a little bit,” Otzelberger said. “When we’ve been at our best when we’re getting movement, cutting, physical catches in the post -- we score at a really high rate when we get a post touch and at times they’re switching and things put us on our heels.”

The tides turned in the second half as the Aggies made nine of their first 10 field goals to start the second half.

By the end of the 20-minute period, Utah State would build a lead as large as 23 points.

“Then we talked about and emphasized the importance of those first two minutes out of the half that we needed to get stops,” Otzelberger said. “They converted on 9-out-of-10 out of the locker room and we put ourselves in a deficit and we were chasing the entire second half.”

Hamilton explained after the game fatigue may have played a factor in the team running out of gas.

“Yeah I think fatigue may have played a part,” he said. “I just feel like we need to do it for the whole 40 minutes. We played great defense in the first half, we just have to carry it on in the second half -- just be better.”

After holding Utah State to 32 percent shooting in the first half, UNLV allowed its opponent to shoot 56 percent in the second half.

The dominance for the Aggies continued in nearly every aspect in the second half.

By the end of the game, Utah State won the rebounding battle (34-24), points in the paint (30-18) and tallied 18 assists on 28 made field goals while holding its opponent to nine assists on 19 made field goals.

Reigning Mountain West Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Neemias Queta, was held without a field goal until the 1:15-mark in the first half.

He would settle in in the second half, finishing with 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Mbacke left the floor under the power of two teammates after taking a hard fall and appeared to be favoring his left knee.

“All we know at this point is our trainer Bryan evaluated him,” Otzelberger said. “Again, he’s going to continue to look at it. He felt like hopefully the fall was worse than what the injury might be.”

Mbacke finished with four fouls in perhaps his last game as a Runnin’ Rebel.


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