About three minutes remained in the first half of the UNLV-Utah State basketball game Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. The score was tied at 24. And given what has happened to the Rebels at times this season, it was easy to expect the worst from them.
Instead, UNLV outscored the Aggies 10-0 the rest of the half to take a 34-24 halftime lead and set up what would become an impressive 62-42 win. Those final three minutes gave hope to what can be the rest of the Mountain West season for a team that can ill afford another slip-up on its home floor.
“When we have been good this season like that (the final three minutes of the half), we’ve been able to get stops and create turnovers and get out in transition,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
It began at the defensive end, where the Rebels (12-7, 3-3 MW) used their length to keep Utah State off the offensive glass and alter or block shots.
At the other end, UNLV went inside and outside to establish the lead. Jelan Kendrick and Deville Smith hit 3-point shots sandwiched by a Roscoe Smith putback and a Carlos Lopez-Sosa driving layup.
The Aggies (12-6, 2-4) never recovered. They continued to struggle offensively, finishing 2 of 17 on 3-pointers and shooting 31 percent from the field.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as you have to make some shots,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill said. “They rushed us late in the first half, and we missed a lot of open shots. But they’re long and hard to play against, so credit to them.”
Jalen Moore, who had nine points for the Aggies, said the final three minutes of the first half was the difference.
“We didn’t play Aggie basketball,” he said. “We got outrebounded, and we didn’t share the ball.”
Utah State had a season-low four assists; its previous low was 12 vs. UNR. Credit the Rebels for denying the passing lanes and pressuring the ball.
“It was a great team defensive effort,” Rice said. “We’re taking a lot of pride in our defense, and that’s shown in the last week.”
His players knew it was a matter of expending extra energy that allowed UNLV to gain control and win a game it had to win.
“We had to stay aggressive,” said Roscoe Smith, who had 14 rebounds and 13 points. “We said be first for everything. Be first on the ball. Be first to the boards. Be first with energy.”
Utah State, which was without leading rebounder Kyle Davis, who has a dislocated kneecap, couldn’t match up against Roscoe Smith and Khem Birch, who had seven rebounds, two blocked shots and a massive cutout of his likeness that was displayed in the stands by the Rebellion student section. UNLV had a 44-29 rebounding edge and nine blocked shots, three from freshman Christian Wood.
“We shouldn’t have any excuses,” Moore said. “We had the same thing happen at Boise State. We have to do a better job of rebounding as a team.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.