September 25, 2018 Currently: 85° | Complete forecast

Rebels routed in second straight game, lose to Fresno State

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Brandon McCoy (44), Kris Clyburn (1), Shakur Juiston (10) and Jordan Johnson (24) head toward head coach Marvin Menzies during a time out in their game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.

Rebels Fall to Fresno State

UNLV Rebels forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) and Fresno State Bulldogs guard Deshon Taylor (21) chase after a loose ball during a game at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Brandon McCoy walked into the postgame press conference after UNLV's 77-64 loss to Fresno State with his head in his hands.

The freshman had posted 12 points and 11 rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep the Rebels competitive in a game that meant a lot in terms of the Mountain West standings. UNLV (19-9, 8-7 MWC) was beaten badly for the second straight game — this time at home — and the losing had clearly gotten to McCoy.

When the first question was directed at him, asking what the team could do to turn things around, the usually jovial big man provided a pained, one-word response.

"Practice," McCoy groaned, as if he barely believed his own answer.

At that point, it seemed like McCoy's spirit had been extinguished. But then a funny thing happened. He kept getting more questions, he kept talking, and by the end of the media session he had talked himself into UNLV still having a fighting chance in the Mountain West this season.

When asked later if there was still enough time for the Rebels to save their season, McCoy sounded like a new person.

"Absolutely," McCoy said. "It was a tough game, but I feel like we hit a wall like this early in the season and we got back to it. We've got a lot of games left. Other than these last [three], we've got the [Mountain West] tournament, so we could easily turn this around. We've got the tools and the guys, we've just got to get back to the lab."

That kind of resiliency was the only thing head coach Marvin Menzies could call for after the game, which saw UNLV shoot below 30 percent and get pummeled on the interior by a vastly more physical team. After getting absolutely trounced by Fresno State (and San Diego State three days earlier), Menzies didn't want to bury his team. Instead of harping on Fresno's 44-26 advantage in points in the paint, or the Rebels' 17 turnovers, or his team's 2-of-16 shooting from 3-point range, Menzies stayed on message, saying he believes his team is better than the way they've played in back-to-back blowout losses.

"When you're going through a tough time like this, you have to step back and get clear vision and not let the emotion of the loss take you to a deep place where you can't recover," Menzies said. "We know what we have. We have a good team. We've seen flashes of good play."

The UNLV team that showed up against Fresno State on Wednesday was not the same UNLV team that won five of six and looked like a Mountain West contender as recently as a week ago. Fresno State jumped out to an 18-9 lead, and after a first half that saw UNLV rack up more turnovers (10) than field goals (nine), FSU took a 43-30 lead into the break.

For the second game in a row, the Rebels never mustered a run over the final 20 minutes. Fresno State left the door ajar, never extending the lead past 18 points until the final minutes, but UNLV failed to take advantage. The Rebels shot 8-of-31 in the second half (25.8 percent) and 0-of-10 from 3-point range, and FSU bulldozed its way to the finish line.

Three Bulldogs topped 20 points, as Deshon Taylor scored a game-high 22, while Jaron Hopkins and Bryson Williams added 20 apiece.

Jovan Mooring finished with 11 points for UNLV of 3-of-16 shooting, while Jordan Johnson totaled 13 points on 1-of-5 from the field. All five Rebels starters committed at least two turnovers.

The sideways shooting, haphazard ball-handling and listless defense bore no resemblance to the good Rebels of the past month.

"I love my kids," Menzies said. "I feel bad for them that they haven't been successful the last couple of games. But I feel worse because they haven't had the type of effort that they had the four games prior to that when they were really trending in the right direction."

Now, Menzies' top task is to keep his team united. With three games left in the regular season, UNLV is currently tied for fifth place in the conference standings, and that's where they want to remain, as the top five teams receive a bye on the first day of the league tournament. Back-to-back routs can threaten to pull a team apart, especially this late in the season, but Menzies is convinced his players will hold together.

McCoy rebounded from despondent to optimistic in the span of a press conference, and Menzies needs the rest of the players to follow suit and figure things out before the start of the Mountain West tournament.

"I typically have our teams playing their best basketball when that tournament gets here," Menzies said. "That's like a whole different season when the tournament starts. I think they'll be ready to play in March for sure. But we've got to get better before then. "

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

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