Utah State Eliminates Rebels in Quarter Final Matchup

  • March 12, 2021, 08:48 AM
  • Matt Atencio
Utah State Eliminates Rebels in Quarter Final Matchup Steve Marcus/Las Vegas Sun Bryce Hamilton (right) drives to the hoop against the Utah State Defense.
Entering Thursday night’s quarterfinal matchup between the UNLV Rebels and Utah State Aggies, UNLV had been eliminated in the Mountain West quarter final for six consecutive seasons.

That streak did not come to an end, as the Rebels were ousted by the Aggies 74-53.

Despite the blow out score, the two teams were neck and neck through the first 20 minutes. The teams went back and forth in the first half, with neither able to grab hold of the game. Bryce Hamilton led the way for the Rebels in the half, recording 8 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. Worster led the Aggies with 9 points on 4-5 shooting. The Rebel defense held the Aggies to just 25% shooting from the field. Despite early foul trouble from Mbacke Diong, the Rebel defense also managed to hold Aggies center Neemias Queta to just five points on 1-5 shooting from the field. The Rebels opened up a six point lead on the Aggies with just over two minutes to play in the half. However, some bad bounces, turnovers, and bad shots allowed the Aggies to close out the half on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 24.

“We knew tonight, to be successful, we would need to be the more physical team,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “It felt like our guys really answered that call in the first half.  I felt we had great ball pressure, hand pressure, and an excellent job defensively."

In the previous two matchups between Utah State and UNLV, the games were decided by less than 10 points. It appeared after the first half this would happen again. However Utah State had other plans. They came out of the intermission and hit on their first five shots, and nine of their first 10 overall. The Rebels were able to stay within striking distance by hitting the three straight three-pointers, but were never able to flip the lead back. The Aggies never cooled off and took a strangle hold on the game. They shot 55% from the field in the final half, while the Rebels shot a measly 34.5%. The lead kept growing and the Rebels never really found an answer. In the final five minutes, With the lead as high as 24 at one point, all the Rebels could do was watch as Utah State dribbled the air out of the basketball as time ticked down. When the final horn rang, the Rebels were handed a 74-53 loss and a seventh straight quarter final exit from the Mountain West Tournament.

“I was really proud of the way our guys came out,” Otzelberger said. “Unfortunately to beat a good team like Utah State is, you need to sustain it for 40 minutes. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that tonight.”

Hamilton led the way for the Rebels in scoring, finishing with 16 points, five rebounds and three assists. David Jenkins Jr., the team's perimeter threat, struggled in the game. Jenkins Jr. finished 1-13 from the field and failed to make a single three-point shot. Queta, who the Rebels held in check in the first half, finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Aggies. The night for the Rebels got much worse as lone senior Mbacke Diong suffered an apparent left leg injury towards the end of the second half.  He had to be helped off the court and could not put any pressure on his leg.

With the Rebels season now over, many wonder if the team's biggest star Bryce Hamilton will return for his senior season. Hamilton mentioned he had not given the decision any thought, so the option for his return is still there. Regardless of his decision, the offseason will be long for the Rebels. Hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic will not impact next season's start date.

Matt Atencio

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