Updated March 4, 2021 - 9:04 am
A lapse against a team as solid as San Diego State hurts, as UNLV found out the hard way Wednesday night.
The score was tied at 28 with 1:49 left in the first half, but the Aztecs scored the final seven points before halftime and first seven of the second half and were never seriously challenged again in a 71-62 win at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The win was San Diego State’s 11th straight and clinched its second straight Mountain West regular-season championship. Matt Mitchell scored 19 points to lead the Aztecs, and Jordan Schakel had 16 points and nine rebounds.
San Diego State (20-4, 14-3) is tied with Colorado State in the official standings, but will be the the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West tournament by virtue of two games against New Mexico that were reclassified from cancellations to forfeit wins for the Aztecs. The tournament will begin March 10 at the Thomas & Mack.
“We knew against a very good team the importance of every possession,” UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We had some good spurts, but we didn’t play a complete enough game for 40 minutes. I really thought that 7-0 run just before halftime really hurt us. We have to stay the course and not have those runs against us.”
Nathan Mensah scored 14 points for the Aztecs, and Trey Pulliam had eight assists.
David Jenkins scored 32 points to lead UNLV (11-13, 8-9), which is seventh in the conference standings. The Rebels will finish the regular season Saturday at Wyoming.
Here are three takeaways from the loss:
1. No help for Jenkins
Jenkins got the UNLV offense started early with three 3-pointers for its first nine points and finished 11 of 23 overall and 7 of 14 from 3-point range.
No other Rebel reached double figures. Leading scorer Bryce Hamilton had nine points but shot 3 of 14.
“They’re physical,” Jenkins said. ”When you try to drive by them, they bump you off your line. They switch hard, they get up on shooters, and one thing I noticed is they talk the whole game. When you’ve got a team that communicates like that the whole game, there’s not many mistakes.”
2. Free throws sink Rebels again
One of Otzelberger’s points of emphasis recently has been cutting down on fouls.
UNLV didn’t get that done, committing 20 fouls to the Aztecs’ 14, and San Diego State took advantage. The Aztecs were 22 of 26 from the free-throw line, including 15 of 18 in the second half. UNLV was 7 of 9.
“It’s been a theme for us that it’s been hard to erase that deficit,” Otzelberger said. “We did a good job defensively early in the game keeping them off the foul line, but as the game wore on, their physicality gave us trouble and they continued to get to the line. That’s the difference maker in the game.”
3. Diong quiet on senior night
The Rebels honored their only senior, center Mbacke Diong, before the game. He was 1 of 5 for two points with three rebounds, two assists and a block.
Because of an NCAA rule granting an extra year of eligibility, Diong could return next season. That decision has yet to be made.