The Rebels looked like they might have something going after a 5-1 start to MWC play. Then the good teams showed up.
After losing back-to-back 17 point games, the Rebels hoped to right the ship in Utah vs the Aggies. Amauri Hardy got the Rebels going with a nice dribble drive and score. It was a far departure from Tuesday night’s start when UNLV was content to chuck up long 3’s with very minimal success. The Rebels started a small lineup with Joel Ntambwe and Nick Blair at the forward spots, and Noah Robotham, Kris Clyburn, and Hardy at guards.
The Aggies wasted no time taking advantage of their size getting to the rim at will in the early going. Utah St. opened up a 12 point lead just 7:00 into the game. UNLV responded with back-to-back 3’s by Robotham and Clyburn, and a pair of FT’s to cut the lead to four. But the Rebels were unable to sustain any consistency in their half court offense, and quickly found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-5 Utah St. run. When the Rebels went zone to take away the inside game, the Aggies would simply shoot (and make) the three ball. If the Rebels went to man-to-man, the Aggies would beat them off the dribble or get the ball to 6’11” center, Neemius Queta, who finished with a double-double (10/16).
By Halftime, the Aggies had opened up a 20 point lead. The Rebels gave up 46 to SDSU, and 48 to Reno in the first half of their last two losses.
UNLV continued to settle for bad shots in the 2nd half, unable to find a rhythm in their half court sets. The already undersized Rebels took another his when Nick Blair fouled out with more than 12:00 left in the game. Blair left without a single point.
The Aggies kept their hot shooting going from outside. A Brock Miller three stretched their lead to 69-43 with 9:28 left. The USU lead got to as high as 29 with just under 8:00 to go. They finished the game hitting almost 50% from the field, including 43.5% from deep. Junior guard, Sam Merrill paced the Aggies with 20. Diogo Brito came off the bench to add 15. Once they finally took their foot off the gas, the Rebels were able to close the gap…slightly. For the third game in a row, the Rebels lose by 17, 82-65.
Joel Ntambwe led the way in scoring for the Rebels with 18, while Hardy and Clyburn both added 14 a piece. The Rebels struggled from deep once again, going 9-24 (37.5%).
The Rebels don’t only lack size, they lack talent in the big men they do have. Ntambwe, for all his skill, is not a true post presence and still young. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua is an extremely raw freshman who is very limited offensively. And Cheikh Mbacke Diong simply can’t catch the ball, and doesn’t have any real post moves. The Rebels inability to match size with any of the top teams in the MWC, coupled with the fact that they are not a great shooting team has been at the forefront of their problems during this losing streak.
To add salt to the wound, Colorado St. went into Air Force today and walked all over the Falcons, 85-53. The Rebels were completely dominated by AFA earlier in MWC play. Many began to believe that loss wasn’t as bad as it looked based on AFA’s win over Freano St. It once again looks as bad as it did at first glance.
It’s not getting any easier for the Rebels. UNLV will head to Boise on Wednesday night to take on the Broncos.