FORT COLLINS, Colo. — With another shot to be the hero for UNLV, freshman Oscar Bellfield made a determined drive down the right side of the lane and elevated toward the basket.
This time, he missed the layup, and after Tre’Von Willis rebounded and missed a short jumper in the lane, the Rebels were not celebrating at the buzzer. Instead, UNLV was tagged with a stunning loss, arguably the most embarrassing one in coach Lon Kruger’s five seasons.
Andy Ogide scored 18 points for Colorado State, which raced to an early lead and held on for a 71-69 upset victory Wednesday night before only 2,757 fans at Moby Arena.
“It’s not a good loss for us,” said senior forward Joe Darger, who made six 3-pointers and totaled a game-high 20 points for the Rebels. “We came out here, and they jumped on us.
“I wish I knew the answer why we aren’t playing as well as we can.”
UNLV, picked as the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West Conference, dropped to 13-4 and 1-2 with its second consecutive setback on the road.
The Rams (6-11, 1-2) stopped a 19-game regular-season conference losing streak.
“You figure it’s inevitable that you’re going to knock one out,” said Colorado State coach Tim Miles, who was 0-18 in MWC regular-season games. “Losing is a bad habit, and it’s really hard to break that habit.
“I was happy the guys were able to pull it out against a high-quality opponent.”
Just two weeks ago, the Rebels were riding high after Bellfield’s layup from the right side of the lane with 16 seconds remaining produced a 56-55 victory at Louisville.
But they hit their lowest point by losing to the Rams, who had been the laughingstock of the league.
“We now realize there’s a whole lot of teams in the league playing better than we are, and we’ve got to respond to that,” Kruger said. “I think going into the league, we were thinking other thoughts, and those aren’t healthy thoughts ever.
“Teams are outfighting us. We can’t take pride in that. You just can’t accept that.”
Kruger, who labeled UNLV’s defense “horrible,” benched starters Darger, Willis, Wink Adams, Rene Rougeau and Darris Santee early in the game.
Kruger visibly was disgusted with his team’s effort, and he cleared the bench in the first nine minutes. He used 12 players, including walk-ons Scott Hoffman and Rob Ketchum.
“That’s only because we didn’t have 15 (players),” he said. “We needed to find someone who wasn’t going to throw it the other direction. Our passing in the first half, I’ve never seen that before. We were throwing them layups.
“We have to add that to our list of concerns, and we’ve got many.”
The Rebels were pressured into a comedy of errors, as they committed seven turnovers and fell behind 22-10. Colorado State opened by shooting 10-for-16 and finished the game 27-for-58 (46.6 percent).
Willis Gardner scored nine points as the Rams capitalized on UNLV’s sloppy play to take a 32-28 halftime lead.
“(Kruger) was very unhappy with that sloppy start,” Darger said. “He tried to get some energy from somebody. We knew we deserved to be on the bench.”
The Rebels went ahead 34-32 on Santee’s layup three minutes into the second half. But the Rams rallied with a 20-9 run, and Gardner’s fast-break layup pushed their lead to 52-43 with 11:15 remaining.
UNLV trailed 68-60 with four minutes left but trimmed the deficit to 70-69 on Adams’ two free throws with 45 seconds remaining. Adams, who finished with 14 points, stumbled on a drive and missed a layup with 16 seconds remaining.
Willis fouled Colorado State’s Adam Nigon, who made one of two free throws.
Bellfield beat his defender but missed a contested layup, and the ball was batted to Willis, who missed again.
“Oscar had a good look at it, and we had a couple rebound opportunities,” Kruger said. “We’ve got to teach (defense) differently somehow. It’s my responsibility to help them get the results.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and to find where to start is the real question.”
Adams said the Rebels did not overlook the Rams, who had five players score in double figures and got pivotal contributions from former Las Vegas high school stars Andre McFarland and Harvey Perry.
“We’ve got to stay positive. We’ve still got a lot of games to play,” Adams said. “But we definitely have got to change some stuff real fast.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.