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Live blog: UNLV survives close call with 71-64 win at San Jose State

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels guard Amauri Hardy (3) lays up the ball against UNR at the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019.

Updated Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019 | 4:06 p.m.

It was closer than it ever should have been, but UNLV made some big shots (and some clutch free throws) down the stretch to defeat San Jose State, 71-64. 

Amauri Hardy provided the dagger, sticking a 3-pointer from the corner with 1:17 to play to put the Rebels up, 64-57. That was UNLV's final field goal; the Rebels made seven free throws the rest of the way to seal the win. Hardy finished with 15 points, including 12 in the second half. Joel Ntambwe led UNLV with 20 points. 

The Rebels trailed as late as the 9:43 mark of the second half and needed to tough out a victory over perhaps the worst team in all of Division I, so it's doubtful that Marvin Menzies will be too happy with the team's performance. But it does improve UNLV to 14-11 on the season and 8-5 in Mountain West play. 

San Jose State had plenty of chances to hand UNLV a devastating loss, but the Spartans were atrocious from the free-throw line, making 5-of-17 on the day. Michael Steadman led SJSU with 16 points. 

Rebels lead by 1 at San Jose State

UNLV has officially entered the danger zone. After Mbacke Diong scored seven straight points to give UNLV some breathing room, San Jose State answered with its own 7-0 run to take the lead. With 9:17 to play, UNLV is hanging on to a 49-48 advantage.

Noah Robotham just gave the Rebels the lead with a free throw, and he'll shoot the second after the timeout.

UNLV has shot better in this half, making 3-of-9 from 3-point range, but the margin for error has been reduced to nothing. The next team to go on a run could end up winning this one, and a loss here would put a stain on the entire season for the Rebels.

UNLV trailing at SJSU, looking for spark

With 15:59 to play, San Jose State has a 41-39 lead and UNLV fans have to be fretting.

Marvin Menzies called a timeout just 90 seconds into the half to rally his team, but it hasn't made a big difference in the Rebels' level of play so far. Amauri Hardy and Bryce Hamilton have hit 3-pointers to keep UNLV within a single possession, but San Jose State is now giving the Rebels problems at the other end of the court. The Spartans are 4-of-5 from the field so far in the second half, and Zach Chappell just scored in the paint while drawing a foul. He'll shoot the free throw after the timeout.

UNLV stumbles through first half, trails at San Jose State

The Rebels just turned in perhaps their worst 20-minute performance of the season, and they rightfully trail San Jose State at the half, 31-28.

UNLV may have come into this game as the best shooting team in the Mountain West, but the Rebels have not looked the part, as they made just 4-of-20 from 3-point range in the first half. San Jose State packed the paint defensively and held UNLV to four points in the paint on 2-of-7 shooting on layups and dunks.

The situation could have been even worse for UNLV, but San Jose State went an unbelievable 2-of-10 from the free-throw line for the half. The Spartans also made just 1-of-9 from beyond the arc. A decent shooting performance from the home team would have put UNLV in a much steeper hole at the break.

The game is not over by any means. SJSU is still one of the very worst teams in the country (both offensively and defensively), and one hot streak from downtown could give UNLV enough of a boost to steal the game. But it's been a struggle so far, and the longer this game stays close, the more UNLV runs the chance of tightening up and letting it slip away.

Rebels misfiring from 3, fall behind at San Jose State

UNLV is still waiting for its shooting to come around, and in the meantime San Jose State has assumed a 22-18 lead with 7:34 left in the half.

SJSU is packing the paint on defense, challenging UNLV to take a high volume of 3's. That strategy is working so far, as the Rebels are just 3-of-14 from 3-point range. By playing closer to the basket, San Jose State has also been able to keep UNLV off the offensive glass; SJSU has 13 defensive rebounds, while UNLV has pulled down just four offensive rebounds

Spartans big man Michael Steadman has proven to be a difficult cover for UNLV, as he's got a game-high eight points on 4-of-6 FGs.

UNLV basketball takes early lead at San Jose State

The Rebels haven't found their touch from beyond the arc yet, and with 16:00 left to play in the first half UNLV leads San Jose State, 7-6.

UNLV's offense has been heavy on outside shots so far, as six of the Rebels' nine shots have come from 3-point range. They've only connected on one — a Joel Ntambwe corner make — but most of them have been open. In the first meeting between these teams, UNLV made 15-of-31 from long distance in a blowout win, so it appears the Rebels are going to try to ride that blueprint again today.

Three keys for UNLV basketball at San Jose State

UNLV has already dispatched San Jose State once this season, beating the Spartans 94-56 at the Thomas & Mack Center on Jan. 19. Can the Rebels complete the season sweep with a road win today (2 p.m., AT&T SportsNet)?

Three keys to watch:

Get the guards going

UNLV was a post-heavy offense last year, but this season everything runs through the guards. In Mountain West play, senior Noah Robotham and sophomore Amauri Hardy are averaging a combined 23.7 points and 11.3 assists per game, while committing just 3.7 turnovers. They are also shooting 42.3 percent from 3-point range.

San Jose State does not have a good defensive backcourt. If Robotham and Hardy play well, UNLV will score efficiently and SJSU will have a hard time keeping up.

Get stops

The Rebels have struggled defensively in league play, and it almost cost them on Tuesday against Air Force. The good news for UNLV is that San Jose State possesses one of the worst offensive attacks in the entire country, as the Spartans score just 0.759 points per possession (343rd nationally).

With sophomore center Mbacke Diong rounding back into form — he is third in the conference in blocks (1.7 per game) and block rate (7.5 percent) — today’s game should give the Rebels a chance to get well on the defensive end.

Get a big lead and keep it

UNLV hasn’t been good at getting leads of any kind, as their starting units have been consistently outscored on a game-by-game basis. But San Jose State is not a team the Rebels should let hang around. There’s no other way to put it — this might be the worst team in the country.

SJSU is 3-20 on the year and hurtling toward a winless Mountain West campaign (0-11). The Spartans are No. 343 in the KenPom.com rankings, and their half-court offense and defense both rank in the bottom 10 nationally, according to Synergy Sports data. UNLV shouldn’t mess around — build a 20-point lead, keep the starters in until the game is completely out of hand, and then get ready for Tuesday’s game at Wyoming. Slipping up against SJSU would be a really, really bad sign.

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

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