What was originally scheduled senior night, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels experienced its latest triumph with a conference win over Fresno State.
UNLV beat Fresno State, 68-67, from the Thomas & Mack Center Friday, Feb. 26.
“I thought down-the-stretch we still weren’t perfect,” head coach TJ Otzelberger said. “ I thought it was as together as we had been as a team.”
The Rebels are now 11-12 on the year and 8-8 in the Mountain West conference.
The Bulldogs were supposed to be the last team on the regular season schedule for the program but earlier this week the conference announced rescheduling plans from previously postponed games earlier this year.
UNLV will now get ready to host San Diego State Wednesday, March 3.
“Yeah [we] have to get focused for them, they’re top of the league,” sophomore guard Caleb Grill said. “They beat Boise State the other night in a close game, they were pretty much up the whole game but kind of let them back in late. So we just have to be focused for a full 40 minutes.”
Following that game, the Rebels will end their regular season slate with a road game against the Wyoming Cowboys Saturday, March 6.
The program’s last three games have been decided by three points or less.
UNLV holds a 2-1 record in those games after starting the season 1-3 in such games.
Game one of this season series can best be told as a game of runs featuring 15 lead changes and seven ties.
With the game tied at 13, Fresno State went on a 12-0 run to take a stranglehold of the game.
During that stretch UNLV went scoreless for more than five and a half minutes.
The Bulldogs built a lead as large as 16 points in the first half.
“We knew we were better than them,” Grill said. “We didn't play very [well] in the first game obviously. Them coming out and hitting all those shots, to me it was just like ‘Whatever, they’re not going to keep it up because they’re not a great three-point shooting team.’”
However, the Rebels battled back toward the end of the half ending the first 20 minutes on a 7-0 run to head into halftime down, 40-32.
“We had a good run to end the first half,” Grill said. “We kind of came out in the second half together just wanting to keep that same energy and I thought that’s what we did to start the second half.”
Senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong opened the second half with a steal and a dunk that energized the team and the few permitted inside the TMC.
UNLV later used a 8-0 run to cut the deficit back to three points.
“Coming out in the second half we talked about energy, enthusiasm and passion,” Otzelberger said. “Mbacke’s steal and dunk really got us going.”
By the 14:23-mark of the second half, the Rebels reclaimed the lead, 49-48.
Soon thereafter, the Bulldogs would go scoreless for three minutes allowing its opponent to go up five with nearly 10 minutes left.
However, fouls kept the game close.
With 5:41 to go in the game, UNLV had been called for its ninth foul of the half when Grill committed a foul on a Fresno State three-point attempt with his team down a point.
“I thought we had a lot of unnecessary fouls,” Grill said. “But that happens in the game, we just have to limit them.”
The Bulldogs went 2-for-3 during that trip to the line.
An 8-4 run by the Rebels forced the away team into a last-second heave at the buzzer with a chance to win the game.
“We started with Mbacke on the big fella [in the second half],” Grill said. “And we just didn’t help as much. I thought we did a good job in the first game especially with Mbacke as a help defender. [Fresno State] made adjustments out there and they exposed it for us in the first half for a little bit then as soon as we put Mbacke on him we got right back into the game.”
That misfired shot allowed UNLV to escape with a series splitting win.
Both teams shot over 45 percent from the field (48-46 LV) while Fresno State made two more three-pointers than UNLV (10-8).
However, the Rebels dominated in the paint, outscoring the Bulldogs 32-18.
Grill scored a game-high 18 points on 6-of-12 from the field including four made three-pointers.
He also added three steals.
Sophomore forward Moses Wood scored 10 points off-the-bench for UNLV in part of a 14-7 bench advantage for the team.
Fresno State forward Orlando Robinson finished with 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the field.
“We thought it would be tough to keep him on Orlando Robinson, one-on-one, the entire game,” Otzelberger said. “So we were hopeful that we could buy ourselves some time early.”
He had nine points on a perfect 4-for-4 through the first 12 minutes of the game before handing out back-to-back assists on made three-pointers.
Yet, he was held to six points on 2-of-10 shooting the rest of the way.
In game one, he was held to 3-of-11 shooting from the field, scoring 12 points in the process.
Robinson came into the series as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer.
UNLV leading scorer, Bryce Hamilton, struggled from the field as well.
He scored 13 points, seven rebounds and a steal but shot 6-of-18 from the floor including going 1-of-5 from deep.
“I think more than anything teams are loading up more on him,” Otzelberger said. “I think of everybody in the country, [he] takes a higher percentage of our shots than any other player in America. And that’s nearly 360 teams.”