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Blog: Rebels routed at Air Force, 106-88

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Rebels guard Noah Robotham (5) warms-up prior to a game against the Colorado State Rams at Thomas & Mack, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

Updated Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 | 11:02 p.m.

Air Force put on an offensive clinic against UNLV, topping the century mark with ease in a 106-88 victory over the Rebels.

The Falcons turned UNLV defenders into bystanders for 40 minutes, as they made 40-of-67 shots from the field (59.7 percent) en route to handing UNLV its first Mountain West loss of the season. The Rebels are now 3-1 in league play and 9-7 overall.

Amauri Hardy (23 points) and Joel Ntambwe (18 points) had productive nights, but UNLV simply could not stop Air Force on the other end. The Falcons drove to the basket over and over and finished with a 59-26 advantage on points in the paint.

UNLV will return home to host San Jose State on Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Air Force leads UNLV, 85-70 in second half

Amauri Hardy has hit three 3-pointers in the second half, including two in the last minute, but it has hardly made a dent in the Air Force lead. With 7:58 to play, the Falcons still maintain an 85-70 advantage over UNLV.

The Rebels have scored with good efficiency on the night, but they have been completely unable to stop Air Force at any point. After allowing AFA to shoot 54.5 percent in the first half, UNLV has let the Falcons make 14-of-20 FGs (70.0 percent) so far in the second.

It's looking more and more like the shorthanded Rebels are going to suffer their first Mountain West loss tonight.

UNLV trails Air Force in second half, 71-57

UNLV has played poorly for the entirety of this game so far, but the Rebels aren't dead. They have trimmed the Air Force lead to single digits several times in the last few minutes, and with 11:58 to play, the Falcons are up 71-57.

Kris Clyburn has begun to heat up with 15 points on the night, and Joel Ntambwe has 14 after knocking in a pair of 3-pointers early in the half. Ntambwe drew a foul on his last drive and will shoot a pair of free throws after the timeout.

UNLV hasn't had any more success defensively in the second half. Air Force has made eight of its first 13 shots (61.5 percent), and Ryan Swan has proven impossible for the Rebels to stop, as the junior forward has 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Air Force runs out to 48-34 halftime lead over UNLV

The Rebels turned in perhaps their worst 20 minutes of the season, and Air Force took advantage, making 54.5 percent of its shots to take a 48-34 halftime lead over visiting UNLV.

UNLV appeared helpless defensively for most of the half, especially on the interior. With Mbacke Diong out with an injury and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua limited to six minutes in the half, Air Force ran a layup line through the lane, building a 24-15 lead in points in the paint.

Air Force forwards Ryan Swan and Lavelle Scottie combined for 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting.

UNLV got nine points from walk-on Nick Blair, as well as nine points from Amauri Hardy, who swished a pair of 3-pointers in the closing minutes of the half.

If the Rebels don't figure out a way to put up some resistance under the basket over the final 20 minutes, Air Force is poised to hand them their first Mountain West loss in humiliating fashion.

Rebels start slow at Air Force

Midway through the first half, UNLV has not been able to stop Air Force in the paint and the Falcons have built a 30-20 lead.

Air Force already has 14 points in the paint despite not starting a player taller than 6-foot-6. The Rebels are size-challenged themselves, as they are playing without center Mbacke Diong, and AFA forwards Lavelle Scottie and Ryan Swan have taken advantage. Scottie and Swan have already combined for 20 points on 7-of-9 FGs.

UNLV would be in a deeper hole if it wasn't for the surprising contributions of walk-on Nick Blair. He entered the game as a reserve forward and has a team-high eight points on 3-of-4 shooting.

Three keys for UNLV basketball at Air Force

UNLV made a statement by winning at New Mexico to improve to 3-0 in conference play, and the Rebels are heading back out on the road in pursuit of a 4-0 start when they take on Air Force today (8 p.m., ESPNU).

Three keys for the Rebels:

Beat man defense

Air Force has been known as a zone team under coach Dave Pilipovich, but the Falcons have been utilizing a man-to-man scheme almost exclusively this season. AFA has played man in 91.5 percent of half-court situations, as opposed to zone on 8.5 percent of possessions. When UNLV has the ball, that means there should be more opportunity for dribble penetration than a normal Air Force game. Amauri Hardy will be key, as he has proven to be the Rebels’ best drive-and-dish guy.

Keep JTT clean

UNLV will likely be playing without Mbacke Diong tonight (ankle), and with Shakur Juiston and Cheickna Dembele already out for the season, that leaves freshman Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua as the lone true big man on the active roster.

Tchamwa Tchatchoua is capable of playing extended minutes — he logged 40 in the Rebels’ overtime win over BYU — but he also averages 5.8 fouls per 40 minutes. Keeping JTT out of foul trouble and on the court will be hugely important, as the next center on the depth chart is 6-foot-8 combo forward Tervell Beck. Considering how bad UNLV has been in limited minutes with Beck at center (opponents have outscored the Rebels, 28-10, in 13 minutes), Tchamwa Tchatchoua needs to play as much as possible.

Small on Swann

Air Force is an average offensive team, but forward Ryan Swan-Ford stands out as one player who is having an efficient season (12.3 points per game, 54.7 FG%). The 6-foot-6 junior scored 16 points in each of UNLV’s regular-season meetings with AFA last year, and he did it mostly from the perimeter. Swan doesn’t operate like a normal power forward — more than 77 percent of his shots are jumpers, as he mostly works dribble handoffs and pick-and-pops to spring open for long 2's. The Rebels could matchup by playing small, putting a guard on him and sticking close on the perimeter.

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

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