Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013 | 8:37 p.m.
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FORT COLLINS, Colo. — The scouting report on Colorado State will change slightly from team to team, but no matter the opponent it always starts with offensive rebounds. It has to, because if you don’t keep the Rams from getting to the glass you’re not going to beat them.
UNLV (15-4, 2-2) actually finished with the same number of offensive rebounds (11) as the Rams (15-3, 2-1) on Saturday evening in Moby Arena. Yet CSU started the game with four points on second-chance points, and when they needed to keep control in a crucial moment, senior Pierce Hornung went up and took the Rebels’ last real chance at victory away from them.
“(We) did a great job on the defensive possession and then we just didn’t get him blocked out,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said.
That wasn’t the only thing that led to UNLV’s 66-61 setback. But in a game the Rebels lost despite CSU making only one shot in the final 7 1/2 minutes, it’s the best place to start.
The Rams came out and did exactly what UNLV couldn’t allow because the Rebels didn’t try hard enough to stop them. Rice pulled Mike Moser, who sat the final 6:30, less than a minute and a half into the game after the second putback, and overall the team was lethargic. On one possession, Anthony Bennett hadn’t even crossed half court by the time Justin Hawkins missed a 3-pointer, and even when the Rebels got the rebound Bennett still never crossed the three-point line.
“There’s no doubt we were tired to start the game,” Rice said. “It’s not an excuse; we need to find a way to win the game.”
Bennett scored five points in the first three minutes and then struggled the rest of the way. He shot 4-for-8 from the field and tied a season low with nine points. Bennett also scored nine Wednesday in San Diego, an indication that Mountain West teams are going to make the Rebels beat them with anyone else.
“They’ve been extremely physical with Anthony and he’s always got two hands on him,” Rice said. “Everyone knows where he is.”
CSU’s Greg Smith, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds, was in charge of containing Bennett much of the night, with Colton Iverson (seven points, 10 rebounds) and Hornung (nine points, six rebounds) crashing on double teams.
“His eight shots for the most part were hard fought,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “He is a great player and we put numerous guys on him.”
As a result UNLV couldn’t get the ball inside so it was senior guard Anthony Marshall who took over on offense. Marshall found a lot of success getting into the lane off high ball screens and finishing at the rim. He scored 15 of his team-high 21 points in the second half and finished 9-for-17, which were more attempts than Khem Birch, Bennett and Moser had combined.
That’s obviously not the shot distribution the Rebels want and it came at a cost. Marshall was 7-for-10 in the second half but he also had two turnovers in the final 7:15, missed a couple of free throws with the game tied and three of his four fouls led to six points at the free-throw line.
Every foul called on UNLV in the second half was damaging, because after missing its second free throw attempt of the second half, CSU went 15-for-15 the rest of the way, including all of the points in the decisive 10-2 run in the final 3:23. That run started on Dorian Green’s free throws after Marshall’s fourth foul, a call that seemed to take away some of his aggressiveness in trying to get into the lane.
The final two minutes went like this: Trailing by three, Birch gave the Rebels the ball by pinning a shot against the rim and grabbing it in the same motion. Out of a timeout Marshall then passed to Bryce Dejean-Jones on the wing and while driving to the lane he was called for pushing off. That left UNLV down three with 1:03 to play.
The Rebels could have had another chance because Green, who finished with a game-high 24 points, missed a 3-pointer with about 40 seconds remaining. But just as UNLV didn’t box out at the beginning, Hornung beat the Rebels to the ball and held onto it, forcing fouls and effectively ending the game.
“Once you block him out you’ve got to block him out two or three more times,” Marshall said. “That’s what happened on that last possession; we did a pretty good job on our initial block and then he just kept moving.”
Marshall said no team in the Mountain West had a tougher two weeks than the Rebels, and with games at New Mexico, San Diego State, Colorado State and home against Air Force it’s hard to argue the point. Getting out of that stretch at 2-2 should have always been considered adequate, if not positive, given the league’s overall difficulty.
While the Rebels were battling at CSU, San Diego State scored just nine points at halftime at Wyoming and went on to lose. It’s likely the regular season league champion will have at least three losses, if not four. So this isn’t doomsday for the Rebels, who host Wyoming on Thursday at 6:15 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
That doesn’t make them feel any better about letting another close game get away though. Rice doesn’t like to put too much emphasis on the plays made or not made strictly at the end of games, because things like the Rebels’ nearly seven-minute scoring drought in the first half are a big factor, too.
There were many things UNLV wanted to do but didn’t against Colorado State.
“I told the team whoever wins the rebounds wins this game,” Eustachy said, “and we got two more rebounds than them.”
That’s not the whole story, but it’s the best place to finish.