UNLV got the big things right on Saturday, as junior guards David Jenkins and Bryce Hamilton shot the lights out and combined for 57 points at Colorado State. But too many mistakes were made on the margins, and the Rams were able to exploit those little things to beat UNLV, 83-80, to drop the scarlet and gray to a disappointing 1-6 on the season.
The biggest lapse came with the game tied, 78-78, in the final minute. Colorado State came out of a stoppage and put the ball in the hands of star point guard Isaiah Stevens, but his initial drive attempt was cut off adroitly by Hamilton.
Except after Stevens handed off the ball to teammate John Tonje on the wing, Hamilton relaxed. That split-second of slack defense was all Stevens needed; while Hamilton’s attention drifted, Stevens popped back behind the 3-point line, accepted a return pass from Tonje and calmly swished a go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the key with 27 seconds to play.
The little things.
For the game, Colorado State made 16-of-29 from 3-point range, with none more damaging than Stevens’ dagger when Hamilton chose the wrong moment to turn his head.
UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said his team has to execute better in defending the arc or good shooting teams like Colorado State will continue to take advantage of their miscues.
“They’re a good 3-point shooting team, but we had something to do with that, too,” Otzelberger said. “I think at times defensively when we’re off the ball we get caught ball-watching a little bit and we’re late to close-outs. So there’s times our awareness needs to be better.”
In the big picture, UNLV’s performance in Fort Collins was a pleasant surprise. After more than a month off due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the program, they played the Rams — one of the better teams in the Mountain West — down to the final possession in both games. And they did it without starting point guard Marvin Coleman, who is still going through health and safety protocols.
After a shaky performance on Thursday both Hamilton and Jenkins bounced back in the second game of the series, as they took turns carrying UNLV by knocking down a variety of mid-range jumpers and 3-point shots. Hamilton hit a short turnaround to tie the game, 76-76, with 2:33 to play, and the next time down the court Jenkins pulled up from the free-throw line to give UNLV a 78-76 lead.
Colorado State has its own dynamic duo, however, and they took over from there. Sophomore swingman David Roddy powered his way to the basket to tie the game at 78-78, and Roddy then locked down a Hamilton isolation play and blocked his desperation 3-point attempt as the shot clock expired; that led to Stevens’ clutch give-and-go 3-pointer at Hamilton’s expense.
Down by 3, Hamilton drove and hit a short floater to pull UNLV within 81-80 with 16 seconds remaining. Stevens knocked down a pair of free throws with 12 seconds left to restore the margin to three points.
Hamilton got a good look from the left wing with six second to play, but his shot rimmed out and center Mbacke Diong clanked an open put-back attempt. Time expired and UNLV is now 0-2 in Mountain West play.
Roddy tortured UNLV in both games and finished Saturday’s contest with 18 points, six assists and five rebounds. Stevens had 22 points, eight assists and six rebounds.
Jenkins tallied a game-high 29 points while Hamilton totaled 28. No other UNLV player scored in double figures, though Diong contributed nine points and 15 rebounds.
UNLV will play a recently scheduled home game against non-DI opponent St. Katherine on Tuesday before resuming its Mountain West schedule with a two-game home series against New Mexico on Jan. 16 and Jan. 18.
Jenkins believes UNLV can turn things around, but it has to start with the little things that have been such a big thorn in the team’s side so far.
“We had to be more physical than they were overall,” Jenkins said. “We felt like we had to bump them on cuts and wall up and do those little things, because we felt if we could out-play them and out-physical them we’d have a chance. But there were certain times in the game where we’d have a mental lapse.”
“Once we do a better job of getting over that mental barrier and making sure we’re locking in and telling each other that we have to be physical throughout the game, I feel like that’s really going to help us moving forward.”