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UNLV needs to win fight on glass vs. SMU

Minutes after Wednesday’s 64-57 loss to Texas State, UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger bemoaned his team’s struggles to grab defensive rebounds.

Not only did Texas State repeatedly keep possession and control the clock, those rebounds also helped prevent the Rebels from getting into their transition offense.

Now they face a Southern Methodist team that is one of the nation’s best in offensive rebounds, presenting UNLV (2-4) with quite a challenge when they meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

SMU (4-0) is ninth in the country in securing 39.1 percent of potential offensive rebounds, according to Kenpom.

“They’re a tremendous offensive rebounding team,” Otzelberger said. “Against Evansville, they really controlled the glass (47-25). They’re long and athletic across the board, and that’s part of their DNA. So not only do we have to do a great job of initiating contact and keeping them off the glass, we have to be able to secure rebounds and get out and go in transition.”

UNLV is 207th nationally in allowing opponents to grab 29.8 percent of offensive rebounds.

The result has been a stagnant offense rather than what Otzelberger prefers in pushing pace. UNLV is 323rd in adjusted tempo, according to Kenpom, at 66.4 possessions per 40 minutes. The NCAA average is 70.3.

Against Texas State, UNLV allowed the Bobcats to collect offensive rebounds at a 37.5-percent clip, slowing down the Rebels’ offense and helping force them into a half-court game.

“I think our spirit needs to be better to guard late in the shot clock and score late in the shot clock,” Otzelberger said. “They converted a lot of times in that last 10 seconds (on the shot clock) when they just kind of outwilled us and outlasted us.”

The return of guard Jonah Antonio would help UNLV’s offense get going, but his availability because of an injured left hand remains in question. He was hurt before the Nov. 12 game at California, but played through the pain before finally sitting out against Texas State.

No matter who’s on the court, the Rebels will be hard-pressed against an SMU team that outrebounds its opponents by an average of 9.8 per game.

That puts the onus on UNLV 6-foot-11-inch forward Mbacke Diong, who averages 10.7 rebounds, to hold his own. He has double-figure rebounds in four of the Rebels’ six games, and combined for 15 in the other two.

“They go hard to the glass every time,” Diong said of SMU. “They don’t care about the shot they just took, they just care about getting the offensive rebounds. We need to do a better job of hitting them first.”

The better Diong does his job on the boards, the better chance for UNLV of getting a quick outlet pass and moving the ball down the court. It’s not all on Diong, however. Even the guards need to fight for rebounds.

“Mbacke does a great job, but I’ve got to take it upon myself to not forget about boxing out, especially (against) SMU,” guard Elijah Mitrou-Long said. “That’s going to be very key because everybody crashes.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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