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Rebels doomed by early (and late) miscues in loss to Cincinnati

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels guard Noah Robotham (5) and Cincinnati Bearcats guard Cane Broome (15) fight for a loose ball during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday Nov. 1, 2018. The Bearcats beat the Rebels 61-65.

For the second straight game, UNLV tried to rally for a late victory despite playing less than its best basketball for the majority of the contest. For the second straight game, the Rebels were rebuffed, this time at the hands of Cincinnati on Saturday by a score of 65-61.

After digging an early double-digit hole, UNLV rode strong second-half performances from Amauri Hardy and Kris Clyburn to trim Cincinnati’s lead to a single possession on several occasions down the stretch, but the Rebels came up short due to untimely turnovers and poor accuracy from the free-throw line.

After committing 25 turnovers in an ugly loss to Valparaiso on Wednesday, the Rebels gave the ball away on their first three possessions against Cincinnati (and eight times in the first eight minutes). That allowed Cincy to build a 17-7 lead midway through the first half, and after the Bearcats pushed the margin to 12 points late in the period, UNLV spent the rest of the day trying to claw its way back.

Clyburn did the heavy lifting immediately after halftime, scoring 10 points in seven minutes to pull UNLV within 42-35. Hardy took over from there, scoring 16 second-half points to bring the Rebels to the precipice of an upset win.

Cincinnati Beats UNLV 65-61

UNLV Rebels forward Joel Ntambwe (24) is slow to get up from the court after an injury in the final moments of a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday Dec. 1, 2018. The Bearcats beat the Rebels 65-61. Launch slideshow »

After committing nine first-half turnovers, UNLV cut back to five in the second half.

Head coach Marvin Menzies said his team’s ability to adapt to Cincinnati’s ball pressure was what allowed them to make a run over the final 20 minutes.

“They did a really good job,” Menzies said. “They handled the pressure well, I thought, for the duration of the game after those first eight or nine minutes.”

Unfortunately for the Rebels, their ball-security issues popped up again at the worst time.

Cincinnati was up, 60-56, with 66 seconds to play when Clyburn drove the lane and had the ball stripped by Bearcats center Nysier Brooks. UNLV gave a foul, and the Rebels still had life after Cincinnati guard Justin Jenifer made one free throw to make it a 5-point game. On the next possession, Hardy was stripped on his way to the basket, leading to a fast-break bucket by Jenifer to seal the game.

In addition to the turnover woes, UNLV also struggled with its shooting touch for the second consecutive outing. The Rebels went 7-of-24 from 3-point range, and maybe more harmful was their 18-of-29 showing from the free-throw line.

Hardy drew a team-high seven fouls on the day with his aggressive play and made 7-of-11 from the stripe, but it wasn’t good enough.

“We missed a lot of free throws tonight,” Hardy said. “That played a huge part. Myself, I take the blame for this one, but if we make our free throws the dynamic of the game could have changed for sure.”

Hardy finished with a career-high 22 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Clyburn Totaled 12 points and nine rebounds, while freshman Bryce Hamilton chipped in 10 points.

Cincinnati guard Keith Williams was a thorn in UNLV’s side all day and finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, including four tough offensive boards.

UNLV is now 4-3 on the season, and while their second-half performance can give the team some confidence heading into a tricky road game at Illinois (Dec. 8), this will sting as a game the Rebels let get away.

“It’s something we can take with us,” Clyburn said. “but at the end of the day we know we should have won that game.”

Frontcourt falters

UNLV got almost nothing from its two most important players, as center Mbacke Diong and power forward Shakur Juiston both got into early foul trouble and struggled to regain any type of rhythm throughout the rest of the game.

Diong posted zero points and one rebound in 16 minutes, while Juiston looked extremely passive in his 23 minutes, finishing with more turnovers (five) than field-goal attempts (three).

Juiston eschewed several open shots in the paint in favor of passing the ball; he has now committed five turnovers in each of UNLV’s last three games.

Menzies said Juiston is still trying to find his place in the offense, but acknowledged that the Rebels need him to be more assertive.

“Shakur does make some passes that I would prefer he take those shots,” Menzies said, “but he’s a great teammate and he’s trying to play within a system where I need him to be, not selfish, but I need him to be a little more aggressive offensively at times.”

Cronin hears it

UNLV fans have a long memory, apparently, as they gave Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin a loud round of boos when he was introduced before the game.

Cronin was a candidate for the UNLV job after former athletics director Tina Kunzer-Murphy fired Dave Rice during the 2015-16 season, and Kunzer-Murphy has alleged that Cronin accepted the job, only to back out when Cincinnati stepped up its offer to retain him. Cronin has denied accepting UNLV's offer.

He's probably happy he stayed at Cincinnati, as the Bearcats have gone 67-12 and made the NCAA tournament in both seasons since Cronin decided to return.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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