UNLV challenges No. 4 San Diego State

  • January 28, 2020, 11:53 AM
  • Ralena Phillips
UNLV challenges No. 4 San Diego State Photographed by Lucas Peltier Bryce Hamilton knocks down a jumper as the shot clock winds down.
Sunday afternoon the UNLV Runnin' Rebels fell just short to No. 4 San Diego State Aztecs, 71-67, in the largest turnout this season of 12,287 fans in the Thomas & Mack Center. Tip-off took place just hours after news of the unfortunate tragedy of Kobe Bryant’s death. The Thomas & Mack Center took a moment to honor the fallen NBA legend and father of four. Most of the players who took the floor grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant and were forced to suppress any emotions to focus on the game ahead.

The energy in the Thomas & Mack was insane and fans were into it. It's a sight you rarely get to see much of this season at home. The Aztecs led most of the game, but UNLV took control with just under 12 minutes left of play taking the lead (45-43) with a 3-pointer from Elijah Mitrou-Long. The Runnin' Rebels were in a position to upset the undefeated conference leader but couldn’t get it done offensively, not scoring again until 6:23 remained in the game.

UNLV trailed by three points with 3:36 minutes remaining (55-52), but SDSU answered with a five-point run to make it an eight-point lead that would carry them through the final minutes of the game.

The difference in the game was turnovers. The Aztecs committed six total turnovers, two of which happened in the final minute of the game. Which means the Aztecs played close to perfect all game, taking away the Rebel's ability to score easy transition buckets. This allowed SDSU to come away with the win over UNLV despite making fewer buckets (23 made shots to UNLV's 24 made shots).

“It was a hard win, close all game,” said Malachi Flynn, leading scorer for the Aztecs with 21 points against the Rebels. This win over UNLV makes the Aztecs 21-0 and the only remaining undefeated team in the nation.

Sophomore guard Bryce Hamilton earned a spot back in the starting lineup Sunday and could not be stopped offensively by the Aztecs. Hamilton dropped game-highs of 29 points and 10 rebounds in his second double-double of his career that kept the Rebels close throughout. The ball was in his hands, followed by a shot attempt, nearly every possession down the floor. “I just made the play,” Hamilton said following the game. Hamilton is on the road to All-Conference Honors if he continues to play the basketball he’s been playing.

While the ball seemed to easily find the basket for Hamilton, the rest of the Rebels took time to get their offense going. Elijah Mitrou-Long returned to the floor after being sidelined for nearly two months, missing 12 games with a broken thumb. Mitrou-Long played limited minutes but contributed with eight points. Sophomore guard Marvin Coleman also added 11 points for the Runnin' Rebels.

“They don’t make mistakes (offensively),” said UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger, “Defensively, they’re always in the right spot at the right time. So it’s not that they make heroic plays, it’s that they’re so sound over and over and over again.”

The loss snapped a six-game win streak at home for UNLV, and they are sitting at 6-3 in conference play, 3rd in Mountain West standings. The Rebels showed their capability to compete at a high level, “I thought our fight and competitive spirit was there,” said Coach Otzelberger. In order to win these kinds of games in the future, the Rebels will need to limit their mistakes and have a consistent effort all game from all players.

After 73 meetings between the two teams, The Aztecs lead the all-time series with the Runnin’ Rebels 37-36. The two teams are scheduled to meet again on February 22 at San Diego.

 

Ralena Phillips

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