Blog: UNLV blown out by Montana State in opener

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Moses Wood (1), guard Bryce Hamilton (13) and guard Nicquel “Nick” Blake (22) leave the court following the Rebel’s 78-91 loss to Montana State at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

Published Wed, Nov 25, 2020 (5:47 p.m.)

Updated Wed, Nov 25, 2020 (8:39 p.m.)

The clock has finally ticked down to zeroes at the Thomas & Mack Center and it couldn't have come soon enough for UNLV, as the scarlet and gray were handled by Montana State, 91-78, in the season opener. 

UNLV's defensive performance was pitiful from beginning to end, allowing Montana State to shoot better than 56 percent for the game. Four Bobcats finished in double figures, led by the 22 points of point guard Xavier Bishop.

Though UNLV tried to spread the floor with multiple four- and five-guard lineups, the production was inconsistent at best. A large chunk of Bryce Hamilton's 27 points came in garbage time, and David Jenkins underwhelmed in his Vegas debut with seven points on 2-of-9 shooting. 

Freshman Nick Blake gave UNLV 16 points off the bench in his first college game, but that bright spot was blighted out by all the miscues on the defensive end.

If UNLV wants to contend in the Mountain West this year, performances like tonight's are not going to cut it. Not by a long shot. And with North Carolina next on the schedule (in the opening game of the Maui Invitational), things have to turn around in a hurry or this season could careen off the tracks.

Montana State throttling UNLV in opener, visitors up 86-65

UNLV is trying to chip away at Montana State's big lead, but defensive lapses continue to haunt T.J. Otzelberger's team. With 3:58 remaining, Montana State still has an 86-65 lead.

Nick Blake has been a bright spot, as the freshman has knocked in four 3-pointers on the night and now has 16 points in 18 minutes off the bench. Caleb Grill has also played well, with three 3-pointers and 11 points in 30 minutes. Grill has also been UNLV's best perimeter defender, which isn't saying much considering how badly the team has gotten torched by Montana State's ball-handlers.

The Bobcats continue to score at a rapid pace, shooting better than 52 percent in the second half. Guard Xavier Bishop has a game-high 20 points, while three other Montana State players are in double figures.

To put it plainly, UNLV looks bad tonight. Bad shot selection, bad offensive execution, bad team defense. And the scoreboard reflects that.

UNLV continues to flounder, Montana State leads 68-51

UNLV has warmed up offensively, but the defense continues to be nonexistent. Montana State is shooting 58.3 percent in the second half and the Bobcats still command a 66-51 lead with 10:15 to play.

Freshman Nick Blake and sophomore Caleb Grill have each popped in a couple 3-pointers to buoy the scoring attack. UNLV is now 7-of-19 from beyond the arc on the night.

Montana State used inside-out passing to shred UNLV in the first half, but since the break the Bobcats have relied on dribble penetration to kill the UNLV defense. Bryce Hamilton and Blake just gave up driving layups on the last two possessions.

If UNLV has one big run in them, it has to happen soon or a comeback is probably out of the question.

UNLV falls flat in first half, trails Montana State, 49-31

UNLV did not live up to its offseason hype in the first half, as Montana State just outplayed the home team in every way for 20 straight minutes. The Bobcats have taken a 49-31 lead into the locker room and T.J. Otzelberger is searching for answers.

Otzelberger attempted to play small for the majority of the half, but Montana State was ready for it and threw the ball into the post at every opportunity. UNLV was forced to send extra defenders to help their smaller pivots, and that allowed Montana State to make easy kick-out passes for open 3's; for the half, Montana State connected on 7-of-11 from long distance. It was easy pickings. If Otzelberger is committed to playing small this year, his team has to defend at a much higher level or it simply won't be possible to keep running four and five guards out there at the same time.

On offense, UNLV appeared tight and not very confident. They opened the game 0-of-7 from 3-point range and committed seven turnovers in the half. Junior transfer David Jenkins is off to a cold start, as he is 2-of-7 from the field. Bryce Hamilton started hot but cooled as the half went on; he's got a team-high eight points on 3-of-9 shooting.

Simply put, UNLV severely underperformed on both ends of the court. Now they've got to dig out of a huge hole over the final 20 minutes, or this is going to be a very bad beginning to what was supposed to be a promising season.

UNLV falls behind early against Montana State

UNLV has struggled to find a rhythm on offense, and with 7:39 remaining in the first half Montana State has built a 24-14 lead.

The problem is obvious: UNLV isn't making shots. They are 0-of-7 from 3-point range, while Montana State has connected on 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. That's the difference so far.

It's a concerning start, simply because shooting was UNLV's biggest flaw last year as well. The team added sharpshooters in transfers David Jenkins and Moses Wood, but so far they've provided no 3-point production.

Eight players have already seen the floor for UNLV, but none has brought the hot hand. T.J. Otzelberger will have to continue tinkering to find the right combination over the final 27 minutes or else this could turn into an embarrassing start to the 2020-21 season.

UNLV opens with small lineup against Montana State

T.J. Otzelberger wasted no time going small, as he started Caleb Grill to round out UNLV's four-guard lineup.

Montana State leads, 7-5, with 15:50 to play. The Bobcats a small squad, but they've been gritty in the opening minutes, forcing two turnovers (including a charge call against Marvin Coleman). Play has been choppy on both ends so far, befitting the unusual circumstances. Though the area PA system is playing crowd noise during live action, the players seemed a bit out of sorts on the first handful of possessions, with both teams mishandling passes.

Bryce Hamilton opened the scoring with a driving layup, then drew a foul on the next possession via another hard drive. The junior made 1-of-2 free throws to give him three early points; it looks like he is going to be a handful this season, as expected.

Heralded freshman Nick Blake was the first sub for UNLV, checking in after Coleman's offensive foul.

UNLV players all clear for opener vs. Montana State

UNLV basketball tips off the 2020-21 campaign at 6:30 p.m. against Montana State, and it’s sure to be the most unusual season in the program’s history.

Both teams are on the floor warming up now, but the rest of the building is entirely empty (save for one section of cardboard cutouts) due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Floor access is extremely limited, so Gucci Row and other courtside sections have been removed and the band is not present.

It’s a strange way to start a very promising season, but this should be a team worth following. A few keys to watch tonight:

COVID check

So far things look good for T.J. Otzelberger’s team. All 15 players on the roster are on the court going through warmups right now, so it appears the team was not hit by any positive COVID-19 tests this week. UNLV will have its full complement of players as it tries to begin the season with a victory.

Who’s starting?

Four starters are locked in for UNLV — point guard Marvin Coleman, shooting guard David Jenkins, wing Bryce Hamilton and center Mbacke Diong. The question all offseason has been which player will earn the fifth spot. We’re about to find out whether Otzelberger wants to open the season with a second big man on the floor (Edoardo Del Cadia), a defensive-minded guard (Caleb Grill), a stretch-4 (Moses Wood) or the most talented freshman on the roster (Nick Blake).

While it will be interesting to see who gets their number called for starting introductions, expect Otzelberger to tinker with this spot extensively throughout the season.

The Big 3

Speaking of players who are locked in, the core of this team is its backcourt of Coleman, Hamilton and Jenkins. Now we finally get to see how they mesh in a real game situation.

Hamilton and Jenkins are big-time scorers while Coleman is a distributor, so while there may be some early bumps, they should be able to figure out a way to make it flow offensively. The defensive end is another question. Coleman is a high-effort player, but none of the three are known for their defensive prowess. Otzelberger will have to scheme some way to make that group effective on both ends of the floor.

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

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