Blog: UNLV comes back to beat Fresno State, 68-67

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels Bryce Hamilton (13), Caleb Grill (3) and Moses Wood (1) celebrate after beating the Fresno State Bulldogs, 68-67, at the Thomas & Mack Center Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

Published Fri, Feb 26, 2021 (6 p.m.)

Updated Fri, Feb 26, 2021 (10:03 p.m.)

Fresno State's potential game-winning shot missed at the buzzer, and UNLV came all the way back from a 16-point deficit to secure a 68-67 win.

David Jenkins missed a contested jumper with 10 seconds on the clock, and Fresno coach Justin Hutson elected not to call one of this two remaining timeouts after the Bulldogs got the rebound. They played on, and after some rushed passes around the perimeter guard Anthony Holland was forced to attempt a long 3-pointer from the right wing, which barely drew rim.

The win could be a momentum-changer for UNLV, especially after how lackluster the scarlet and gray looked in losing the first game of the series. UNLV is now 11-12 overall and 8-8 in the Mountain West with two makeup games remaining.

Caleb Grill led UNLV with 18 points, while Mbacke Diong posted eight points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

UNLV trying to complete comeback against Fresno State

The 16-point lead Fresno State had in the first half has been erased, and with 6:31 to play we've got a tie game, 60-60.

Bryce Hamilton just notched his first assist of the series by driving and kicking to Moses Wood, who deposited a corner 3 to put UNLV ahead, 60-58. Fresno State's Anthony Holland scored an inside bucket on the next trip to tie it up and he was fouled on the shot, so he'll shoot one free throw after the timeout.

The scarlet and gray have moved the ball much better in the second half and now have 14 assists on their 24 made field goals. Let's see if they can keep that going down the stretch as the Fresno State defense tightens up.

UNLV surging to open second half, trail Fresno State 45-44

UNLV has started the second half with some loud plays and we've got a game on our hands, with Fresno State's lead cut to 45-44 with 15:56 remaining.

Bryce Hamilton got things started by hitting a 3-pointer, then Mbacke Diong came up with a steal and went the other way for a powerful dunk over a helpless Fresno defender. Hamilton then followed up with back-to-back midrange baskets. If there were fans in the building, they've be on their feet right now.

Diong now has eight points, four rebounds and four assists, while Hamilton is up to nine points.

UNLV trails Fresno State at half, 40-32

Fresno State built its lead as high as 16 points in the first half, but UNLV chipped away in the closing minutes to pull within 40-32 at the break.

UNLV finally strung together two strong defensive possessions to close out the half, while Caleb Grill hit a short jumper and Moses Wood scored on a putback to help close the gap. Grill is leading UNLV with 13 points, while Bryce Hamilton is struggling with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting.

Fresno has feasted from beyond the arc, hitting 8-of-14. Guard Junior Ballard has knocked in 4-of-6 from 3-point range as UNLV continues to dare the Bulldogs to make open jumpers. Ballard has 12 points and big man Orlando Robinson has 11 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Fresno State builds big lead over UNLV

UNLV better be careful, because Fresno State is on the verge of putting this game away already. The Bulldogs just went on a 14-0 run, and with 7:30 left in the first half they've got a 28-17 lead.

Just like last game, Fresno is lighting it up from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs rank No. 301 in the nation in 3-point shooting, but tonight they're 6-of-11. And unlike last game, Fresno big man Orlando Robinson is getting in on the action too, as he's got a game-high nine points on 4-of-4 shooting.

Things haven't gone much better for UNLV on the offensive end. They've 7-of-22 from the field, and top scorer Bryce Hamilton has two points on 1-of-6 shooting.

Jenkins back in starting lineup for UNLV

UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger made a change to the starting lineup, removing freshman Nick Blake and inserting guard David Jenkins. The effect has been minimal so far, as UNLV and Fresno State are tied, 11-11, after five minutes.

The ball seems to be moving with a little more urgency for the scarlet and gray; Jenkins has an early assist, and center Mbacke Diong has a couple assists. Sohpomore guard Caleb Grill came out aggressive and has hit 2-of-2 from 3-point range, giving him an early six points.

The bad news for UNLV is that Fresno State is still shooting the ball well. After their strong 3-point performance in the first game, the Bulldogs have hit 3-of-5 from beyond the arc to open this game.

UNLV seeks to salvage series vs. Fresno State

UNLV suffered perhaps its worst loss of the season on Wednesday, when middling Fresno State came to town and beat the scarlet and gray on their home court, 67-64.

After that dispiriting defeat, T.J. Otzelberger will try to rally his players to put forth a better performance tonight in the return game (8 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

Three keys to watch:

Ball movement

UNLV doesn’t have a true point guard, but it needs to do a better job of distributing the ball than what we saw on Wednesday, when the team’s two highest-usage players—guards Bryce Hamilton and David Jenkins—combined to play 65 minutes and take 35 shots while recording zero assists between them.

It’s not the strength of either player, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Hamilton and Jenkins have to adapt to what the team needs, and that’s playmaking. If they move the ball to the open man and create better shots for their teammates, maybe UNLV will shoot better than Wednesday’s 3-of-15 from beyond the arc.

Defend without fouling

Otzelberger was especially frustrated by Fresno State’s 23 to 13 margin in free-throw attempts in the first game, and he credited the Bulldogs for being the more aggressive team and getting to the basket to force the issue. UNLV will be looking to reverse that tonight by attacking the paint, either through dribble penetration or post touches.

For a labored offense like UNLV’s, free throws are just that — an opportunity for free points. They need to take advantage.

Roll the dice on defense

Fresno State is a poor shooting team; the Bulldogs make 30.7% of their 3-pointers, which ranks No. 301 in the nation. UNLV played the odds in the first game by sagging off shooters and daring FSU to make jumpers, and it backfired as they hit a modest but still good for them 10-of-27 from long range.

Will UNLV use a similar defensive game plan tonight, or will Otzelberger have his defenders stay tighter on outside shooters now that they’ve been burned once? We should get an answer to that question on the first few possessions.

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

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