July 22, 2019 Currently: 91° | Complete forecast

Defenseless Rebels ‘slapped’ in blowout loss at San Diego State

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Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau

UNLV Rebels head coach Marvin Menzies talks with UNLV Rebels forward Joel Ntambwe (24) during their Mountain West Conference basketball game against the Wyoming Cowboys Saturday, January 5, 2019, at the Thomas & Mack Center.

After the Rebels’ miserable experience at San Diego State, it’s safe to say a team has never been more happy to turn the page and get ready to face a Top-10 opponent.

UNLV wasn’t just blown out at SDSU on Saturday. Yes, the visiting Rebels were buried by a 94-77 score, but that was just one of several indignities suffered during the course of the road trip from hell.

First, SDSU forward Jalen McDaniels rubbed some serious salt in the wound by taking and making a long 3-pointer as the final seconds ticked off at Viejas Arena, a decision that rankled the Rebels. And after the game, UNLV coach Marvin Menzies announced that the Rebs would have to bus back to Las Vegas because — and listen to this — a fugitive had broken into the team plane while it was grounded in San Diego and caused damage to the cockpit.

After all that — blowout loss, humiliating buzzer beater, long bus ride — the Rebels will be happy to put California in the rearview mirror. In fact, getting home and welcoming No. 7 UNR to the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday must sound pretty good to the Rebels, who will no doubt be massive underdogs in that game.  

But that doesn’t mean they are ready to forget what happened against San Diego State.

After the game, senior guard Kris Clyburn said the Rebels took McDaniels’s shot as an insult and alluded to on-court payback the next time the teams meet (Feb. 23 in Las Vegas).

“That was definitely a slap in the face,” Clyburn said. “But we’re not really going to talk about that. We’ll just see San Diego when they get to UNLV.”

McDaniels had already done enough damage to UNLV before firing his last-second statement. The sophomore forward finished with 30 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and he also added a game-high 13 rebounds and five steals. UNLV, which was once again without injured center Mbacke Diong, simply had no answer for McDaniels.

Clyburn drew the early assignment on McDaniels, but there was little the 6-foot-5 guard could do against the 6-foot-10 future NBA player. Menzies tried to play man-to-man, he tried a zone, and he tried a full-court press. Nothing worked.

“It was tough,” Clyburn said of defending McDaniels. “He’s athletic, he’s long, he can shoot it over the top of me, but I tried my best to make it tough on him. Unfortunately I got called with two fouls early, so he got going and that was the ball game right there.”

Buoyed by the McDaniels mismatch, San Diego State shot 56.1 percent from the field and 70.8 percent in the second half. SDSU built a 46-35 lead at the half, and UNLV never got closer than 11 points over the final 20 minutes.

On the rare occasion that San Diego State did miss a shot, the Aztecs were almost even money to score anyway. SDSU missed 25 shots from the field (32-of-57 FGs) and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. That translated into 18 second-chance points.

Freshman Joel Ntambwe led UNLV with 19 points, but he said the lack of rebounding was fatal for the undersized Rebels.

“Honestly, we’ve just got to box out more,” Ntambwe said. “All five guys have got to come down there and crack somebody and just get the rebound.”

Even another hot-shooting game couldn’t save the Rebels, as they wasted a 13-of-30 performance from 3-point range (43.3 percent).

The loss drops UNLV to 5-2 in Mountain West play and 11-8 overall. The Rebels are 4-0 at home against MWC opponents, but just 1-2 on the road.

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

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