Rebels can’t finish comeback, fall in OT at Cincinnati

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Kareem Elgazzar / The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP

UNLV forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) pulls down a rebound next to Cincinnati forward Mamoudou Diarra (20) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, in Cincinnati.

Sat, Nov 30, 2019 (7:30 p.m.)

Just hours after the football Rebels scored a dramatic, walk-off victory in overtime against rival UNR, the Runnin' Rebels tried to do the same at Cincinnati.

The basketball team was less successful than its gridiron counterpart, however. Despite a 10-point comeback in the final minute that saw UNLV tie the game with a last-second 3-pointer, Cincinnati recovered to pull away in the extra period for a 72-65 win over the visiting Rebels.

UNLV is now 3-6 on the season and 0-3 in overtime games.

The fact that Saturday's contest even got to overtime was a minor miracle. UNLV took a surprising 33-24 halftime lead, but some severe offensive droughts after the break allowed Cincinnati to catch up and then surge ahead.

UNLV went nearly seven minutes without a basket early in the second half, and the Bearcats went on a 14-1 run during that span to take a 40-39 lead. An Mbacke Diong dunk broke that streak and gave the Rebels a 41-40 advantage, but then UNLV immediately embarked on another basket-less stretch that lasted 8:24.

By the time Nick Blair dunked to end that drought, Cincinnati had surged ahead, 56-46 with only 1:21 to play.

Elijah Mitrou-Long hit two free throws, Amauri Hardy hit a 3-pointer and then Mitrou-Long banged in his own triple to cut the deficit to 58-54. After Cincy free throws, Mitrou-Long was fouled on a 3 and made all three free throws to bring UNLV within three points with 23 seconds left.

Amauri Hardy deflected the ensuing inbounds pass out of bounds, and a replay review determined it grazed off a Cincinnati player's fingers, giving possession to UNLV.

With no timeouts remaining, UNLV scrambled on the final play. Donnie Tillman air-balled a corner 3, but Bryce Hamilton hustled to grab the offensive rebound. He gave it to Tillman, who found Mitrou-Long open on the wing for an uncontested 3. Mitrou-Long swished it to tie the game with 1.3 seconds to play.

The Rebels' scoring prowess quickly subsided in overtime. Mitrou-Long made UNLV's only two field goals of the period as the Rebels shot 2-of-8 over the final five minutes. After missing several clutch free throws in regulation, Cincinnati made 8-of-12 in OT to seal the game.

Scoring droughts have become an issue for a UNLV team that is so reliant on Hardy to carry the offense. The junior guard suffered through the worst game of his college career on Saturday (13 points, 4-of-24 FGs, 4-of-17 3FGs) and the Rebels' offense followed.

Otzelberger said the offensive droughts that cost UNLV against Cincinnati stemmed from the same bad traits that have plagued the Rebels all season.

"We weren't getting stops," Otzelberger said. "When we were, we had a flow to us that felt really good. I think offensively we just got stagnant. We started over-dribbling the basketball, kind of panicked a little bit on the road. I think guys were trying to go out and go one-on-one. Their intention is there that, 'Hey, I want to step up and help my team win,' but for us we've got to keep the ball on the move. We've got to have some more balance."

In addition to Hardy's struggles, the Rebels got very little on offense from Tillman. The junior forward scored a season-low two points on 0-of-5 shooting.

Mitrou-Long played 44 of 45 minutes and scored a game-high 29 points. The senior guard connected on 5-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Though the Rebels lost, Mitrou-Long believes the team is close to a breakthrough and said defense is the key to turning around the offense.

"We can run plays. Coach T.J. is great at offense," Mitrou-Long said. "But I think when we get stops it motivates us on offense to be more aggressive."

Tillman demoted for tardiness

Donnie Tillman started the first eight games of the season, but he was relegated to reserve status on Saturday. After the game, Otzelberger said it was because the junior forward had been late for a team activity.

"We have a very high standard in our program in everything we do," Otzelberger said. "It's important to be on time."

Tillman was the first Rebel off the bench and eventually logged 22 minutes, but he did not make a shot from the field all night.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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