Saturday, March 5, 2016 | 10:42 p.m.
For a UNLV team with four guys who played the entire first half, the 15-minute halftime break seemed like the only thing that could add any life to some rapidly deteriorating legs. So when San Diego State came out of the break on a 14-0 run it was clear there would be no miracles Saturday night at Viejas Arena.
“We competed as long as we could,” said UNLV interim coach Todd Simon. “Our size, speed, length, fatigue … all those things kind of factor into the game.”
The Rebels (17-14, 8-10) had only five available scholarship players, and if that weren’t enough to overcome, the Aztecs (23-8, 16-2) celebrated Senior Night with one of their best shooting performances of the season en route to a 92-56 victory. San Diego State hit a season-high 13 3-pointers, including 2-of-2 from Findlay Prep product Winston Shepard as part of his game-high 18 points.
“When they’re making 13-of-28 from 3, there’s nobody that will beat them. I really believe that,” Simon said. “That was a very, very impressive performance by them."
Senior guard Jerome Seagears still hasn’t been practicing because of a heel injury, and on Saturday he didn’t feel good after shootaround and was held out. Seagears wore a jersey in case of emergency, but he watched from the bench, as did injured scholarship players Ben Carter and Tyrell Green.
Freshman Jalen Poyser filled in with his first career start and the lineup of Poyser, Pat McCaw, Ike Nwamu, Jordan Cornish and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. played the first 16:44 of the game. Simon said the game was moving quickly enough that the group was getting the breaks it needed at the media timeout, and the team was able to take a four-point lead in the first eight minutes.
From that point on, though, the Aztecs doubled up the Rebels on the scoreboard 80-40 for their eighth straight victory in the one-sided rivalry. This is the biggest margin of victory (36 points) in series history, and it’s the most UNLV has lost by since a 44-point defeat at Utah on Feb. 21, 2000.
“We had to roll with the five scholarship guys, the walk-ons, and see what happened,” Simon said.
On Friday, the Rebels added to the roster former walk-on Bryan Glenn, a 6-foot-11 Coronado High grad who was on Dave Rice’s 2011-12 roster before eventually just becoming a student. He played a few minutes and walk-ons Barry Cheaney and Austin Starr combined to play 20. Cheaney’s and-one in the final minute accounted for UNLV’s only three bench points, compared with 34 from the Aztecs, who spent postgame cutting down one of Viejas’ nets to celebrate their third straight regular-season Mountain West title.
The league tournament starts Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center, and UNLV will be in the second game after the loss dropped it to the No. 7 seed. If Utah State hadn’t blown an 18-point lead against Fresno State, the Rebels would have stayed at No. 6 because they had the advantage in a three-way tie. But head-to-head against Colorado State, the Rams got the edge because the league’s tiebreaking procedure determined that CSU’s 0-1 against Fresno State was superior to UNLV’s 0-2.
No matter the roster, the Rebels were a lot better at the Mack than on the road this season, something Simon and the staff will remind players of a lot in the coming days. Saturday night was close to a worst-case scenario as everything caught up with the Rebels, who hope to get at least a little more help to try to make a run.
“We’ll do the best with what we have and try to put some stuff in that will highlight what guys do best,” Simon said.
And exactly which guys will even be available? At UNLV’s rate, that will change a couple of times between now and Wednesday’s tip.
Seagears will probably be back, but maybe not. Dwayne Morgan (shoulder) probably won’t be back, but maybe he will. Either way, the Rebels' approach won’t change much. They just hope the results will.