Needing a win to keep pace in the every-changing Mountain West Conference, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels took a step in the wrong direction in their latest contest.
UNLV lost to Fresno State, 67-64, Wednesday, Feb. 24 from the Thomas & Mack Center after a season-long four-game road trip.
“We knew coming into this game [Fresno State’s] defensive pressure, ability to get the foul line and second chance points is kind of the identity of their team,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “Unfortunately, that came back to haunt us late.”
The Rebels are now 10-12 overall and 7-8 in the Mountain West conference and 17-6 all-time against the Bulldogs.
One more game remains with Fresno State Friday, Feb. 26 from the TMC.
“I think you practice on it and you keep the intent,” Otzelberger said. “We’re working everyday in practice on late gate situations -- up two, down two, the final couple of minutes to play through it. It helps when you have great leadership and command as a group.”
Earlier this week, the Mountain West conference announced the rescheduling of previously postponed games from earlier this year.
UNLV has added a Wednesday, March 3 home contest against San Diego State and a road game versus Wyoming set for Saturday, March 6.
The game went down-to-the-wire with the Rebels having an opportunity to tie the game late with a three-pointer.
“Yeah we thought that they would [foul],” Otzelberger said. “We were trying to get moving into the scoring area, trying to get a pass up the sideline and then try to get it to [junior guard David] Jenkins Jr. on the cut because it’s tough to foul a guy who's in motion.”
Sophomore guard Caleb Grill failed to hit an open Jenkins Jr. with a chance to tie the game at 67.
Team-leading scorer and junior guard Bryce Hamilton led all scorers with 27 points on 11-of-24 shooting from the field.
“[Hamilton] made some big plays to kind of get us going,” Otzelberger said. “And then we kind of stalled out. We’ve got to do a great job of getting movement and cutting and screening and creating action. We spent too much time standing. You can’t have that offensively late.”
He also added six rebounds to his stat line.
No other Rebel guard had more than Jenkins Jr.’s nine points.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs had four players score at least 12 points with a team-high 19 points coming from guard Isaiah Hill.
It was a role reversal for the two programs as Fresno State came in bombing away from downtown.
By the end of the game, the Bulldogs had made 10 of their 27 three-point attempts while holding the Rebels to just 3-of-15.
UNLV kept pace by maintaining dominance in the paint.
The Rebels outscored the Bulldogs 30-14 in the paint.
“Certainly an attribute you want to have late,” Otzelberger said. “You want to be able to throw it in the post, you want to have aggressive drives with physicality later in games especially when you’re in a bonus or double bonus situation.”
Senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor.
“Overall for Mbacke, how he scores is not usually on post ups,” Otzelberger said. “There’s times we’ll go to him in the post. We tried to get him the field goal attempt late on the shuffle cut and pinback, then he got fouled and went to the line.
“Mbacke scores a lot on the offensive boards, he scores a lot on rim-running. So it’s not as simple as throwing it to him in the post and letting him go to work.”
With 3:59 to go in the first half, Mbacke already was up to 10 points.
With 14:43 left in regulation, he took his last field goal attempt.
Mbacke added eight rebounds, a steal and a block.
Both teams battled to a tie in the rebound category at 35.