AP Photo/Herald Journal, John Zsiray
Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 | 10:40 p.m.
The ending was different because for the first time this season a Mountain West game really got away from UNLV, but the event that triggered it was so familiar you could practically recite it play by play.
The Rebels entered halftime up three after a flurry of offense from both sides, and by the time they came back out only Utah State was still firing on all cylinders. The Aggies scored on a set play less than 10 seconds into the half and flipped their deficit into a four-point advantage at the 15-minute mark.
UNLV has now been outscored by 32 in the first five minutes of the second half in Mountain West play, and once Utah State got rolling it never looked back. By the time the Aggies hit a 3-pointer on a 5-4 advantage because Christian Wood stayed behind to yell at a referee the margin was 16, and Wood’s subsequent technical foul only meant he had a front-row seat for the rest of UNLV’s 83-65 loss tonight at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
“We simply didn’t play well enough,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice.
The Rebels scored the majority of their first-half points against a sagging zone that allowed Wood and Goodluck Okonoboh to exploit holes while Cody Doolin and Dwayne Morgan emerged as secondary scoring options. Once the defense changed and the shots stopped falling the Rebels got anxious offensively and ceased the ball movement and inside-out play that had gotten them the lead.
“We were throwing haymakers as opposed to grinding it out,” said Doolin, who didn’t take a shot in the second half and finished with eight points, four assists and three rebounds.
Morgan had his best offensive game of the season, scoring 13 on 6-of-6 shooting, but he was about the only thing going well for UNLV in the half court after halftime.
“They got worn down at the end and I like to think we were a part of that,” said Utah State coach Stew Morrill. “… We played them primarily man-to-man the whole second half and we defended much better.”
Wood and freshman Pat McCaw, the team's primary scoring options in Rashad Vaughn’s absence, combined to shoot 8-of-26, while Okonoboh’s second-half touches dropped off the table. Wood finished with 11 points and nine rebounds but also had four turnovers plus four missed 3-pointers before exiting after his technical with 4:24 to play.
Rice, who picked up his first career technical foul on Saturday, called Wood complaining to the refs after a missed call “inexcusable.”
“As a program we can’t allow frustration to affect the team,” Rice said. “I tell him to deal with it every day.”
Las Vegas Sun sports writers Ray Brewer and Taylor Bern have given up trying to predict UNLV's performances as the Rebels responded from an ugly home loss to go win by eight at New Mexico.
The coach hinted at accountability for Wood, who despite questions about effort and energy throughout the season, leads the team in minutes. Utah State neutralized him the way most teams have tried to, with bumps and shoves that get him thinking more about not getting hit than attacking the defense.
“They’re more physical with him than anyone else in the league and so you’ve got to learn to deal with it,” Rice said. “That’s the way the game is officiated.”
Just like he did in the last meeting, Utah State freshman David Collette carved up UNLV’s post defense for 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting. He was one of three Aggies to score at least 17 as guards Chris Smith and Darius Perkins used the attention paid to Collette plus UNLV’s bad transition defense to shoot 8-of-11 beyond the arc and score a combined 37.
Playing its second road game in four days, UNLV’s defense was the main culprit for the defeat. That’s been true in most of the Rebels’ losses, but before tonight the largest margin of defeat in league play was nine, and that game went to overtime.
This one spiraled out of control as soon as the second half started. Spurred by Morgan, the Rebels made one real counter that cut the deficit to two, and three minutes later it was back to 11.
Morgan couldn’t make sense of the team’s lack of energy to start the second half.
“I don’t know honestly,” Morgan said. “That’s something that we have to get together as a team and nip in the bud.”
The Rebels have three more regular season games, and UNLV followers can be excused if they’re not exactly expecting an energized team to run out of the tunnel for Saturday’s second half against Wyoming. The Rebels might not have it figured out but their opponents sure do.