Updated January 20, 2022 - 9:33 pm
When senior swingman Bryce Hamilton’s putback fell with 10:15 left in the first half Thursday at Air Force, everything was going smoothly for UNLV.
Hamilton started the game 3 of 3 from the field. Fifth-year senior guard Michael Nuga hit his first three in a spot start, and halfway through the first half, the Rebels led Air Force by seven points.
It went downhill quickly.
Hamilton’s layup was the last basket UNLV scored from the field in the first half, and the drought was too much for the Rebels to overcome, losing 69-62 to the Falcons at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We’ve got to get more aggressive across the board, and just continue to get better,” Rebels coach Kevin Kruger said. “We’ve still had a lot of stretches where we’re playing a lot better but the lulls we’re hitting are costing us.”
Hamilton had his scoring touch early Thursday trying to rebound from a rough shooting night Monday against San Jose State. A variety of finishes at the rim, along with a good night from the free-throw line helped him score 14 points by halftime. He finished with 32 points on 10-of-19 shooting.
Without Hamilton though, UNLV struggled. Only three other players scored in the first half, and the bench combined to shoot 0 of 3. Only junior wing Donovan Williams concluded the half with a positive plus/minus rating.
The Rebels’ bench scored when junior Victor Iwaukor hit free throws with eight minutes remaining. Another trip to the free-throw line for the former Oklahoma forward triggered a 5-0 run that Williams capped with a three-pointer.
Williams was the second option UNLV’s second scoring option. A personal 8-1 run two minutes after his three-pointer propelled the Rebels (10-8, 2-3 Mountain West) back into the game – pulling them within four.
He missed a crucial jumper down the stretch, though, and Kruger said he’s still growing into his role as a go-to guy.
“It’s a role he’s never had,” Kruger said. “It’s not going to be perfect every night.”
Freshman guard Ethan Taylor had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists for the Falcons (9-7, 2-3). Senior A.J. Walker added 14, including a clutch three-pointer with two minutes left, and freshman Jeffrey Mills came off the bench to score 13.
Williams, who scored 11 of his 19 in the final six minutes, said Air Force punished UNLV with back cuts when the ball went into the post. He said UNLV missed junior Josh Baker and senior Marvin Coleman, who didn’t play Monday because of injury and illness, respectively.
“When we go back and watch the film, we have to adjust that for sure,” Williams said.
UNLV returns home to play San Jose State at noon Saturday at Thomas & Mack Center.