Sometimes things go exactly as expected, straight from Point A to Point B, with nary a plot twist in sight. Thursday night was one of those times for UNLV basketball.
Everyone expected T.J. Otzelberger’s crew to return to the court after a 33-day layoff, with one full practice under their belt, at elevation, and eventually succumb to fatigue against a good Colorado State team that likes to push the tempo.
And that’s what happened.
UNLV built a 13-point lead, but the team collectively hit the wall with four minutes to play and missed six of its last seven shots, allowing Colorado State to surge ahead late for a 74-71 win in Fort Collins.
It was a missed opportunity for UNLV, which falls to 1-5 with the loss and 0-1 in Mountain West play.
Bryce Hamilton led UNLV with 23 points, but it took the junior guard 26 shots to get there (10-of-26).
“I felt like we came out pretty good. We had them,” Hamilton said. “We didn’t play the whole game, and they’re a good team so they were able to make us pay for our mistakes.”
Hamilton nailed a baseline fadeaway and swished a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to give UNLV a 69-62 lead with 4:01 to play. The scarlet and gray then missed their next four shots, and as UNLV’s feet slowed, they began reaching on defense and committing fouls.
Colorado State shot free throws on three of its next four possessions to pull within 69-67. With two minutes to play, Rams sophomore guard David Roddy powered his way to the basket for a layup and a foul; he hit the free throw to complete the 3-point play and give CSU a 70-69 lead.
Hamilton answered with a tough baseline fadeaway to put UNLV ahead, 71-70, with 49 seconds left, but Roddy scored inside again to put Colorado State in front with 26 seconds on the clock.
After a timeout, UNLV tried to run a play to get sophomore guard Caleb Grill rolling downhill off a screen, but the execution was off-kilter and Grill instead fired a quick 3 with 13 seconds left. He missed, Colorado State got the rebound and made both free throws after UNLV intentionally fouled.
Trailing by three points with seven seconds left, UNLV inbounded to junior guard David Jenkins, who raced down the right side and hoisted an impossible fading runner from beyond the arc. He barely drew iron and UNLV walked off the court with its fifth loss in six games this season.
Roddy finished with 18 points, while CSU sophomore guard Isaiah Stevens notched a game-high 25 on 8-of-15 shooting.
UNLV clearly tired down the stretch, despite Otzelberger’s efforts to utilize a deeper bench while limiting his players to shorter stints on the court. Eight players got at least 11 minutes of court time, but the team was hurt by the absence of starting point guard Marvin Coleman, who did not make the trip for “medical reasons.”
With Coleman unavailable, Edoardo Del Cadia started at power forward in a bigger lineup and played well, totaling eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 19 minutes. But UNLV missed Coleman’s leadership in the final four minutes, as the offense devolved into a series of doomed isolation plays.
“Fatigue was certainly a factor,” Otzelberger said. “I think late in games you’ve got to be really intentional about paint touches and trying to put pressure on the rim and we didn’t do a great job of that. Obviously when you don’t have your point guard and the guy who’s used to leading your team down the stretch as a point guard, managing your possessions, it poses a different challenge.”
Grill scored 11 points in the first half and went scoreless after the break. David Jenkins struggled from the field and finished with 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting. Senior center Mbacke Diong, who got so winded after a breakaway dunk that CBS Sports reported he threw up under the bleachers during a timeout, played his best game of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes.
Under the Mountain West’s revised schedule, UNLV will now stay in Fort Collins and play a second game against Colorado State (7-2, 4-1 MWC) on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to go back to the hotel, watch what we didn’t do right and learn from our mistakes,” Hamilton said. “Try to put a whole 40 minutes in and get ready to play them on Saturday.”