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May 17, 2021

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Mbacke Diong cleans up as UNLV wins ugly at San Jose State

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) dunks during a game against the Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.) Redhawks at the Thomas & Mack Center Thursday Jan. 21, 2021.

It was fitting that the biggest play of UNLV’s grotesque win over San Jose State on Sunday came on a missed shot.

As the scarlet and gray clung to a 66-64 lead with less than 20 seconds remaining, David Jenkins launched an open 3-pointer that could been the dagger. Absolutely no one expected it to go in, however, as UNLV made a frigid 35.5 percent for the game and 25.9 percent from 3-point range.

That meant the contest would be decided by which team came down with the inevitable rebound. And when Jenkins’ shot caromed off the rim, UNLV center Mbacke Diong made his move.

Diong outmaneuvered the San Jose State frontcourt to get the ball at its highest point, and the 6-foot-11 senior went to the floor to protect it amid a sea of Spartan hands. A held ball was called, and the possession arrow gave the ball back to UNLV. San Jose State fouled on the inbound, UNLV made one free throw, and SJSU’s desperation 3 missed at the buzzer.

UNLV 67, San Jose State 64.

Diong didn’t officially get credit for his final offensive rebound, as it was ruled a tie-up on the floor, but he still finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and a block to go along with his game-clinching effort on the penultimate play.

“We knew we had the arrow for possession,” Diong said. “I was in good position wedging my guy, and they came and made it a jump ball. Luckily we had possession and that was a big-time play for us to win the game.”

UNLV missed 49 shots on the day (27-of-76) and pulled down an astonishing 29 offensive rebounds, led by Bryce Hamilton’s seven and Diong’s five.

Diong said UNLV’s rebounding success was the result of a team-wide effort to go get their own misses.

“The coaches emphasized to go to the glass in this series,” Diong said. “We didn’t do a good job last game going on the glass; I got zero [offensive] rebounds, Bryce got zero offensive rebounds. That was not good enough.”

UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger credited San Jose State’s varied zone defenses for forcing misses and praised his big man for putting on his hard hat and going to work.

“Fortunately, Mbacke Diong was a warrior today,” Otzelberger said. “No play bigger than that last offensive rebound to help bring home a victory.”

Despite the woeful shooting performance, UNLV built a 54-41 lead midway through the second half, only to watch San Jose State immediately erase it with a 13-0 run.

Hamilton hit a floater to make it 56-54, and after a defensive stop, Hamilton slipped inside to tip in a Moses Wood miss from the corner, extending UNLV’s advantage to 58-54. The Spartans chipped away with a free throw, and Hamilton drove the left side, hung in the air and converted off the glass while drawing a foul. He connected on the free throw to make it 61-55 with five minutes to play.

San Jose got as close as 61-60, and Jenkins hit a 3-pointer to push the lead back to four with less than two minutes remaining. It was 64-62 with a minute left when Hamilton shook loose for another bucket in the paint. Spartans guard Omari Moore converted a layup to make it a one-possession game and set up the final sequence with Jenkins missing and Diong claiming the rebound.

Hamilton gave UNLV 17 points on 25 shots, while Jenkins chipped in 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

By finishing the sweep of San Jose State, UNLV got back to .500 in Mountain West play (7-7) and improved to 10-11 overall. The scarlet and gray will wind down the regular season with a pair of home contests against Fresno State this week.

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

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