UNLV goes low to post win at San Jose State

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Rebels forward Devin Tillis (30) looks to pass around Air Force Falcons guard Ameka Akaya (11) during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021.

Fri, Feb 19, 2021 (9:04 p.m.)

During his time as head coach at South Dakota State, T.J. Otzelberger built his high-octane offense around high-efficiency shot selection.

In other words, his teams shot 3-pointers, layups and free throws.

Way, way down on that list of desirable shots are post-up attempts. Today’s offensive-minded coaches realize that post play is a low-value proposition; back-to-the basket shots are both hard to make and only count for two points. The worst of both worlds.

And yet, UNLV went into Friday’s contest at San Jose State determined to work the ball inside. And darned if it didn’t work like a charm, as the scarlet and gray got good production out of the post in a 76-60 win over SJSU.

Freshman Devin Tillis made his first career start, and he backed down his defender for a short jump hook to tally UNLV’s first points. Mbacke Diong dropped in three post baskets in the first half. Even freshman guard Nick Blake got in on the action, posting up and drawing a foul.

It didn’t look much like Otzelberger’s brand of ball, but the coach was more than happy with the results.

“I think it’s something we’ve got to utilize more. It gives us more physicality to our offense,” Otzelberger said. “I think each game calls for something different, but I do think we need to be more focused on going in there when we can, try to get to the foul line, try to score at the rim a little more than we have.”

Otzelberger informed Tillis about his promotion to the starting lineup earlier in the week and let him know that the ball would be coming his way down low. Tillis said assistant coach Tim Buckley has been working with him to refine his post moves, and it all came together against San Jose State’s overmatched interior defense.

Tillis, a crafty 6-foot-6 forward, scored four post-up baskets and finished with a career-high 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Tillis credited his teammates for giving him space to operate.

“I was able to be so effective because all my other guys on the perimeter were moving great,” he said. “I had cutters on the back side, so all the attention was on them. I was able to take my time, play slow and get my shot up or find the open guy on the perimeter.”

For the game, UNLV racked up a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint.

When the scarlet and gray weren’t backing down the San Jose State defense, guard Bryce Hamilton was able to get into the lane off the dribble and convert from the mid-range. After scoring two points in the first half, Hamilton picked apart the Spartans’ zone defense in the second half and finished with a game-high 18 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Diong posted six points and six rebounds, while David Jenkins and Moses Wood scored 16 and 11 off the bench, respectively.

UNLV is now 9-11 on the season and 6-7 in the Mountain West. The return game against San Jose State is on Sunday.

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

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