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Blog: San Diego State sends Rebels home with 63-55 loss

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Wade Vandervort

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (30) dunks the ball during a Mountain West Championship game against San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday, March 14, 2019.

Updated Thursday, March 14, 2019 | 4:38 p.m.

San Diego State took advantage of some bad situational defense by UNLV, as SDSU scored its last 11 points from the free-throw line to end the Rebels' season, 63-55.

San Diego State had a 52-49 lead when Nick Blair fouled Devin Watson on a long 3-point attempt. Watson, who finished 2-of-11 from 3-point range on the game, went to the line and made all three free throws to double the lead. UNLV never got within a single possession again.

It will be a long offseason for the Rebels, as they'll have to think about their 20-of-61 shooting performance for the next seven months. Seniors Blair and Noah Robotham, who played such critical roles this season, finished the game a combined 1-of-12 from the field.

Kris Clyburn led the Rebels with 19 points on 6-of-15 shooting, while Amauri Hardy chipped in 11 points.

San Diego State moves on to face UNR in the Mountain West quarterfinals.

UNLV, San Diego State tied with four minutes left

Just when it looked like San Diego State was on the verge of pulling away, the Rebels went on their biggest run of the game to get back in it. With 3:58 remaining, this game is tied, 47-47.

San Diego State built a 43-38 advantage with six minutes left, but Amauri Hardy responded with consecutive driving layups to cut it to one point. After an SDSU basket, Kris Clyburn stroked a long 3-pointer to tie the game.

SDSU then scored the next four points to build the lead back up, until Mbacke Diong made a pair of free throws and Hardy drove again to tie the game.

After struggling all game to find its offense, UNLV has now made four of its last five shots from the field. If the Rebels can stay hot for the next four minutes, they might just be able to steal this one.

San Diego State edges ahead of UNLV in second half

UNLV took the lead briefly on back-to-back transition layups by Kris Clyburn, but San Diego State answered with a 5-0 run of its own. With 11:41 remaining, the Aztecs are up 36-33.

After Clyburn snuck behind the SDSU defense for a pair of acrobatic finishes, Jalen McDaniels regained the lead by draining a long 3-pointer from the wing. Aguek Arop then found a gap in the Rebels' defense for a layup to make it a 4-point game.

UNLV simply has not been able to connect, either from outside or inside the arc. The Rebels are 1-of-15 from 3-point range and just 8-of-13 on layups and dunks.

Clyburn is leading the way with 11 points, but he is just 3-of-11 from the field. He has UNLV's lone 3-pointer (1-of-5).

McDaniels leads San Diego State with 20 points, including 2-of-3 from long distance.

UNLV locked in low-scoring battle with San Diego State

The early minutes of the second half have looked a lot like the first half, and San Diego State is holding on to a 29-28 lead with 15:52 remaining.

Both teams are 1-of-8 from the field since the break; UNLV's basket came on a Joel Ntambwe inside move, while San Diego State's came from Nathan Mensah in the post.

Other than that, neither team has been able to find the range. UNLV is 0-of-2 from beyond the 3-point arc in this half and 1-of-14 for the game.

San Diego State leads UNLV at half

After 20 minutes of rough-and-tumble basketball, San Diego State has a 26-24 lead over UNLV in the Mountain West quarterfinals.

The Rebels finally connected from deep, as Nick Blair grabbed an offensive rebound in the final minute of the half and passed to Kris Clyburn on the wing for an open 3-pointer. That improved UNLV's long-distance accuracy to 1-of-12 in the first half and gave them a 24-23 lead.

It didn't last long, however. SDSU dribbled out the remaining time on the clock, and Jalen McDaniels buried his own 3-pointer as time expired to put the Aztecs back on top again. McDaniels is the game's leading scorer with 15 points.

Joel Ntambwe leads UNLV at the break with six points, but it was a struggle for the Rebels. They made just 10-of-33 from the field as a team, including a 2-of-6 conversion rate on layups.

Another offensive half like that and the Rebels' season will assuredly come to an end.

UNLV, SDSU tied midway through first half

The Rebels have yet to make a 3-pointer, but somehow they've managed to stay even with San Diego State. With 7:54 remaining in the first half, we're tied, 14-14.

UNLV is now 0-of-6 from 3-point range, with five different players having missed. Defense has kept the Rebels in the game, as they've limited SDSU to 4-of-17 shooting on the other end. The Aztecs have made just one of their last nine shots.

The Rebels have done a particularly good job keeping San Diego State away from the rim; so far, UNLV has an 8-0 advantage on points in the paint.

UNLV opens cold against SDSU

UNLV has missed its first four attempts from 3-point range, and San Diego State has jumped out to an 8-4 lead with 15:46 left in the first half.

Joel Ntambwe and Amauri Hardy have both missed from long distance, and Kris Clyburn has missed twice, with his last attempt drawing nothing but glass. On the other end of the court, SDSU guard Devin Watson is 2-of-2 from deep.

If the Rebels don't make 3-pointers, they have very little chance of beating San Diego State today.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. San Diego State

UNLV lost both regular-season matchups against San Diego State this year, but can the Rebels flip a switch and find a way to knock off their cruelest rival in today’s Mountain West tournament showdown?

History is against the Rebels, who have been swept by SDSU in five of the last six seasons, including three instances in which the Aztecs also eliminated UNLV from the MWC tourney. After winning their final two contests to finish the season 17-13 (11-7 MWC), however, the Rebels are confident they can pull it off.

Three keys for UNLV:

Interior defense

In the first meeting between these teams, San Diego State blew out UNLV while scoring 1.306 points per possession. The Aztecs scored with ease, tallying 32 points in the paint while making 12-of-16 shots around the basket. It looked like UNLV had no answers on the defensive end.

But sophomore center Mbacke Diong didn’t play in that game due to injury. He was back in the middle for the rematch on Feb. 23, and he made an impact, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking two shots in 36 minutes. Most importantly, SDSU was limited to 20 points in the paint while making 7-of-13 from around the hoop.

Senior point guard Noah Robotham cited Diong’s presence in the lane as a big reason for the defensive turnaround.

“Obviously Mbacke, just being in the paint makes life difficult for a lot of guys,” Robotham said.

Look for Diong to play 35-plus minutes again today, assuming he can stay out of foul trouble early.

Seniors step up

The Rebels are at their best offensively when Robotham and senior guard Kris Clyburn are making 3-pointers. They combined to hit five in the last meeting against SDSU (all from Robotham), and they lost by a single point. Against Colorado State in the season finale, they combined for eight triples and won, 65-60.

The senior duo made 40.4 percent combined in conference play. If they shoot that accurately today on their usual high volume (10-plus attempts), the Rebels can probably put enough points on the board to compete.

Slow McDaniels

After scoring a very loud 30 points in the first meeting, SDSU sophomore star Jalen McDaniels was held to 16 points and five rebounds in the Aztecs’ 60-59 win at the Mack three weeks ago. Most attributed the Rebels’ improved defense in that game to the job junior forward Nick Blair did on McDaniels, but UNLV was actually more effective as a team with freshman Joel Ntambwe at power forward.

In the 17 minutes that Ntambwe played alongside Diong, UNLV held SDSU to 8-of-30 from the field; with Blair next to Diong, the Aztecs made 10-of-19.

UNLV head coach Marvin Menzies will most likely mix up his defensive strategy as the game goes on, mixing in some Blair, some Ntambwe and even some zone. That matchup will go a long way toward determing whether or not UNLV will live to play another game.

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

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