Opponents have treated games against San Jose State like exhibitions, rolling through the Spartans for easy victories.
UNLV picked up the victory Saturday in San Jose, California, but it was anything but easy.
Joel Ntambwe had 20 points, and Amauri Hardy scored 15 and delivered a key late 3-pointer to lift UNLV to a 71-64 victory at The Event Center.
“I told those guys (UNLV’s players), ‘It’s not always going to be pretty. You’ve got to find a way to win when it’s ugly,’ ” Rebels coach Marvin Menzies said. “That’s what good teams do. And it was ugly. And we found a way to win.”
Ntambwe made 6 of 11 shots, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, for UNLV (14-11, 8-5 Mountain West). It was his highest-scoring game since going for 31 points against Wyoming on Jan. 5.
Hardy’s 3-pointer that just beat the shot clock with 1:19 left put the Rebels ahead 64-57 and helped them avoid an embarrassing loss.
San Jose State (3-21, 0-12) had played only one Mountain West team to within single digits, a 73-71 double-overtime loss to Air Force on Jan. 26. Since that game, the Spartans lost by 30 points at Utah State, 11 to San Diego State, 48 at Boise State and 32 at New Mexico before Saturday’s game against UNLV.
It was a rough offensive game for the Rebels, who shot 34.4 percent, including 24.3 percent (9 of 37) from 3-point range. The numbers were particularly bad in the first half when UNLV made 28.1 percent of its shots, including 20 percent (4 of 20) on 3-pointers, putting the Rebels in a 31-28 hole at halftime.
“It was crazy because, gosh, we had good looks,” Menzies said. “No knock against the players in our first year (2016-17 season), but it reminded me of drawing up plays and getting wide-open shots and bricking like crazy.”
Kris Clyburn entered as UNLV’s leading scorer at 13.5 points per game but missed all 12 shots against San Jose State, including all six 3-pointers.
But Clyburn grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds that included the game’s most important one. His offensive rebound gave the Rebels a second chance and led to the key 3-pointer by Hardy that gave them a 64-57 lead with 1:19 left.
“You don’t play the game just to score,” Menzies said of Clyburn’s contributions. “You play the game to win the game.”
Mbacke Diong added 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with eight rebounds, and Noah Robotham scored 11.
Michael Steadman led the Spartans with 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting, but San Jose State was undone as a team by missing 13 of 21 free throws.
UNLV next plays at Wyoming at 7 p.m. Tuesday. The Cowboys are 6-19 (2-10 MW), but the Rebels haven’t won at Wyoming since 2013.
“Another situation with a team that doesn’t have a lot of wins, but you better show up,” Menzies said. “You better be engaged from the tip.”