Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019 | 11:10 p.m.
UNLV scored 88 points at Air Force on Wednesday — and lost.
The Rebels shot 48.4 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from 3-point range — and lost.
They even scored 1.24 points per possession, their second-most efficient offensive showing of the season — and lost.
And it wasn’t even close, as lowly Air Force tore UNLV’s defense to shreds in a 106-88 blowout that will send the Rebels back to Las Vegas searching for answers on that end of the court.
UNLV came into the game shorthanded, with rim-protecting center Mbacke Diong inactive due to an ankle injury, but there was still no way of predicting just how poorly the Rebels would perform defensively.
Air Force jumped out to a 31-20 lead midway through the half, and after making 18-of-33 from the field through the first 20 minutes, the Falcons had built a 48-34 lead heading into halftime.
Things got worse for UNLV after the break. Though the Rebels caught fire from 3-point range, making 8-of-12 from deep in the second half, they were unable to put a dent in Air Force’s lead. The Falcons hit on a ridiculous 22-of-34 field goals in the second half (64.7 percent) and crossed the century mark with more than two minutes remaining as the home crowd at Clune Arena roared its approval.
There was simply no resistance from the UNLV defense, as Air Force drove into the lane unimpeded for a parade of easy shots. Of the Falcons’ 40 made field goals, 23 were categorized as layups or dunks.
UNLV coach Marvin Menzies attributed the unsightly defense to poor execution on the Rebels’ part and superior offense from an Air Force squad that came into the contest ranked No. 271 in KenPom.com’s adjusted offense rating.
“It was just a calamity of errors,” Menzies said. “Guys had a lot of miscues on the scouting report early, and that got us in a little bit of a hole. This is a hard team to play from behind against. They’re just so calculated and surgical with their offense.”
UNLV guard Amauri Hardy scored 23 points, setting a new career high in the process, but it was a drop in the ocean compared to Air Force’s offensive onslaught.
The sophomore point guard said Air Force never gave the Rebels an opening to mount a comeback.
“They ran a lot of stuff and had a lot of counters for every time we tried to get a stop,” Hardy said. “We couldn’t get a lot of stops in a row, which made it hard for us. We just kept trading buckets.”
Junior forward and certified Rebel-killer Ryan Swan led Air Force with 22 points on 8-of-14 from the field. Caleb Morris added 19 and Lavelle Scottie scored 14, including a vicious two-handed dunk that gave Air Force its 99th and 100th points.
As a result of all the easy baskets, Air Force finished with a staggering 56-29 advantage in points in the paint.
Menzies said that he tried to prepare his team to play without Diong, who leads UNLV with 1.7 blocks per game, but that the Falcons' raucous home crowd made it tough to execute the game plan.
“We did a lot more switching than we normally do, and that didn’t work out too well for us because we couldn’t communicate it on the floor,” Menzies said. “They couldn’t even hear themselves barking out the screens and barking out the switches. The crowd really affected the game tonight. It’s rare that I say that at Air Force, but they had a great crowd.”
The disappointing loss represents the first blemish on the Rebels’ conference record, as they fall to 3-1 in Mountain West play (9-7 overall). UNLV will have a chance to bounce back on Saturday with a home game against lowly San Jose State.