Until Saturday night.
Playing against a legitimate up-tempo team for the first time since the start of conference play, UNLV had trouble keeping up with Boise State as the Broncos exploited every wrinkle, every crevice, every hole in the Rebels’ defense for 40 minutes.
The result? A 77-72 loss for UNLV, and yet more questions after a close road defeat.
Things started badly for the Rebels, and then got worse. First, Khem Birch picked up two quick fouls in the opening minutes, keeping him on the bench most of the first half. Then Mike Moser was called for a Flagrant-2 after swinging his arm and making contact with Anthony Drmic’s head on a fast-break layup. Moser was ejected after logging just nine minutes.
With those two out of order, Boise State shot 49.1 percent and never trailed in the game. Drmic finished with 22 points, and Derrick Marks tallied 17, including a pair of clutch jumpers in the final minutes.
Still, the Rebels had their chances. Led by strong second halves from Anthony Marshall (18 points, 12 assists) and Anthony Bennett (25 points), UNLV pulled within 73-72 with 33 seconds to play. Bennett missed a 3-pointer with 15 seconds left, however, and Boise State made their free throws to seal the game.
This has to be a confidence-shaker for the Rebels. Besides their signature win at San Diego State, the team hasn’t shown an ability to close out on the road. Let’s examine how this one got away.
The Rebels’ best chance to win this game came with 24 seconds to play. Boise State had just missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and UNLV had the ball trailing by a one point. With no timeouts, the Rebels ran a pick-and-pop at the top of the key, with Bryce Dejean-Jones passing to Bennett. It looked like Bennett had open space in the lane if he put the ball on the floor, but instead he rose up for a quick 3-pointer. The shot missed, Boise rebounded, and that was that. Bennett is the team’s best catch-and-shoot player (47.9 FG% on spot-up shots), but he might have been better served by driving in that situation. The look was open, but a 3-pointer wasn’t necessary. Chalk this one up to a freshman needing to work on his situational awareness.
Marshall’s effort wasted
Once again, Marshall submitted a fantastic all-around game, posting a line of 18 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, two steals and just two turnovers. His late 3-pointer also brought the Rebels within 73-72, setting up Bennett’s shot. Unfortunately, Marshall’s night ended on a down note. With Boise State protecting a 3-point lead, Broncos’ coach Leon Rice had his team foul Marshall with six seconds to play. Marshall missed the first, leaving no choice but to miss the second and hope for an offensive rebound. It didn’t work out, and Marshall’s big night was wasted.
Khem Birch’s struggle for consistency continues. Last game, Birch was the Rebels’ best player as he came off the bench to post 14 points and seven rebounds in a win over Wyoming. But against Boise State, he was nearly invisible. Early foul trouble limited his minutes in the first half, and he wasn’t much better in the second half. Birch finished with four points and three rebounds in 17 minutes before fouling out, and he also missed an uncontested shot at the rim in the final minutes that would have brought the Rebels within one.
When all is said and done, Moser will have flown more than 1,000 miles round-trip to play nine minutes against Boise State. His running clothesline of Drmic in the first half was called a Flagrant-2, and Moser was done for the night after contributing three points and three rebounds in those nine minutes. Considering Birch was already saddled with foul trouble at the time, Moser couldn’t have picked a worse time to get himself thrown out. Contrary to initial reports during the TV broadcast, Moser will be eligible to play in the Rebels’ next game at Fresno State on Wednesday.
Box score: UNLV-Boise State
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