Friday, Nov. 25, 2016 | 11 p.m.
“Execution” can sometimes be a catch-all phrase for players and coaches trying to cliché their way through a postgame news conference, but after Friday’s 63-59 loss to TCU, the Rebels meant it every time they said it.
Offensive execution simply did not exist, and there was no hiding from that fact, as UNLV shot 38.6 percent from the floor, scored 0.808 points per possession and committed 19 turnovers in a game lost by just four points. There were very few clean possessions for the Rebels and even fewer open shots, and in the end it cost them a winnable game.
“Just bad execution in winning time,” head coach Marvin Menzies said, bemoaning the costly turnovers committed in the final minutes. “I thought TCU did a good job of being physical and forcing some of those, but down the stretch I think that was on us. We just kind of threw those away. Threw it right into their hands. Give [TCU] credit for catching them.”
UNLV got off to a fast start, opening the game on an 11-2 run and pushing the lead to 16-6 before TCU head coach Jamie Dixon countered by going to a zone defense. The Horned Frogs trapped the ball in halfcourt situations and UNLV was flustered by the aggressiveness of the zone, tossing too many soft passes that proved easy to poke away or pick off.
TCU steadily climbed back into the game and secured a 30-27 lead at the half. After UNLV had some success against TCU’s man-to-man defense to open the second half, Dixon went back to the zone and the Rebels were stifled the rest of the way.
UNLV played well enough on defense to win — the Rebels limited TCU to 36.2-percent shooting and held them without a field goal over the final 4:36 — but after Jalen Poyser’s fourth 3-pointer of the night brought the Rebels within 56-54 with 3:51 to play, UNLV missed its next five shots from the field, allowing TCU to widen its lead from the free-throw line.
After the game, Menzies said he hadn’t prepared his team to face a zone defense. According to Synergy Sports data, TCU had played man-to-man on 94.5 percent of its defensive possessions over the first four games of the season. When the Frogs went zone, Menzies and his squad were caught off guard.
“Our offensive stuff struggled a little bit against their [zone],” Menzies said. “I didn’t feel like we had any rhythm and tempo going against that zone, and that hurt us. And to be quite honest with you, I hadn’t worked on it much. Jamie’s typically a man-to-man squad … You’ve got to pick and choose [what to practice] when you only have so many hours in the day. I guess I chose the wrong things to work on, because the zone offense was obviously lacking. I know we’re good at it, but we hadn’t gotten reps at it, so I’ll take the hit for that.”
Poyser attempted to shoulder the scoring load and almost pulled it off, posting a game-high 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting (4-of-7 from 3-point range). Junior Dwayne Morgan got the start at center in place of Jones and played one of his finest games as a Rebel, pushing through his usual foul trouble to contribute 13 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 28 minutes.
UNLV drops to 3-2 and will now face Western Kentucky on Saturday in the consolation game of the Global Sports Classic. TCU advances to face Washington in the championship game.
The Rebels will be without Jones and Dembele again on Saturday. Jones is in a walking boot, and though Menzies wouldn’t talk specifics of the injury, he did say that Jones could be out for “weeks.” Dembele has also been shut down, as the team believes rest is the only thing that can heal his foot.
The turnaround to Saturday’s game will be quick, with a 5 p.m. tip-off time, but Morgan preached patience (and execution) in the postgame news conference.
“It was just a matter of us [not] executing down the stretch,” he said. “That comes with experience. It’s a long season. We can still work and get better.”