Bryce Hamilton caught fire in the second half of UNLV’s game at Boise State on Thursday, pouring in jumper after jumper to finish with an impressive 26 points.
After that scorching performance, coach T.J. Otzelberger had just one request — no, a plea — for his star scorer: Play like that earlier, please, before the game is out of reach.
Hamilton scored UNLV’s final 16 points, but by that time the contest had long since been decided. Boise State’s lead never dwindled below double digits over the final 20 minutes, allowing the Broncos to easily absorb Hamilton’s hot stretch as they cruised to the finish line of a 78-66 win.
UNLV is now 8-10 on the season and 5-6 in Mountain West play.
Hamilton came into Thursday’s matchup averaging a team-best 18.2 points per game, most recently tallying 22 and 14 points in a pair of wins over Air Force after returning from a sprained ankle. But against the Boise State defense he managed just a single bucket in the first half, and the Broncos took the opportunity to race out to a 42-30 halftime lead.
So while Hamilton stuffed the stat sheet late, Otzelberger wanted more when it could have made a difference.
“I hate to say it this way, but we need Bryce to be that effective offensively when we have a chance to win the game,” Otzelberger said. “Sometimes we have guys that score a lot of points when the game is not in the balance, and so I’m pleased and proud that Bryce is continuing to compete through this injury, at the same time we need Bryce to play at his highest level with energy and enthusiasm from the start because that’s part of the reason we were at a deficit as well.”
UNLV showed some signs of life early, as Caleb Grill scored UNLV’s first eight points on a pair of 3’s and another long jumper. David Jenkins and Nick Blake added 3-pointers to push UNLV’s initial lead to 19-13.
That proved to be UNLV’s best shot, however, and Boise State withstood it with ease. The Broncos took control on the offensive end and answered with a 20-4 run, powered by 11 first-half points from Emmanuel Akot, to take a 12-point lead into the break.
Otzelberger’s squad simply couldn’t penetrate the Boise defense; UNLV made just 13-of-33 from inside the arc, and most of those makes came courtesy of Hamilton’s late surge.
If there’s one benefit of his garbage-time spree, it’s that Hamilton should head into Saturday’s return game with plenty of confidence. He made 10-of-21 from the field and 4-of-8 from 3-point range, and it appeared that Boise had no natural defensive matchup for him on the wing.
“I just tried to find holes in their defense where I could just be able to get my shot off and create,” Hamilton said. “I feel pretty good, confidence-wise, about the next game.”
Boise State center Mlades Armus proved to be too physical for UNLV’s frontcourt, posting 13 points and eight rebounds. Akot came off the bench to score 16 to lead the Broncos.
Grill gave UNLV 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while Jenkins chipped in 12.
Saturday’s tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and Otzelberger hopes Hamilton will begin making an impact shortly thereafter.
“Good to see him build that confidence late,” Otzelberger said. “Now I hope he can carry it over when it’s time to win the game and in key moments of the game, not when we’re down double figures late.”