Matt Mitchell’s half-court shot hit the backboard and fell to the ground harmlessly. The clock read all zeros and the crowd, the viewing audience and the listening audience sat stunned. UNLV fans around the country cheered and jumped up and down jubilantly, for their Runnin’ Rebels pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season Saturday, defeating #4 San Diego State at Viejas Arena, to give the Aztecs their first loss of the season, 66-63.
Elijah Mitrou-Long led the way for UNLV, coming off the bench to score 19 points in the win. Two other Rebels scored in double figures as well. Amauri Hardy had 17 points and Bryce Hamilton scored 11 points and added 10 rebounds for the victorious Runnin’ Rebels.
Malachi Flynn’s 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists led the way for the Aztecs. The aforementioned Matt Mitchell chipped in 13 points and Jordan Schakel had 10 points for San Diego State in the loss.
Both teams struggled from the field in this one. UNLV was 23-of-55, 41.8% from the field, while San Diego State faired worse, 21-of-54, 38.9% from the field. Both teams went 13-of-19 at the foul line. UNLV was 7-for-23 from three-point range, while San Diego State was 8-for-27 from beyond the arc.
The Aztecs led just twice, for a total of 1:04, and all of that was in the first half. San Diego State opened with a Matt Mitchell jumper to make it 2-0 before UNLV captured the lead with a three from Hardy. Later in the first half Malachi Flynn hit a three that gave the Aztecs a 14-13 lead with 11:46 to go. Mitrou-Long on UNLV’s next possession hit his own three and gave the Rebels the lead back, one which they never let go.
UNLV pushed it to a 12-point halftime lead and stretched it out to 16 near the midway point of the second half. The Aztecs wouldn’t give up, though, slowly chipping away with Mitchell and Flynn leading the way. What really did San Diego State in were empty trips on the offensive end that ended with turnovers or missed shots and UNLV took just enough advantage.
All the stats show how even this game was, but at the end of the day this one did more damage to San Diego State’s chances at a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. More than likely it appears headed for a two seed at best, and, depending how the rest of the season plays out, maybe lower. It could also spark some motivation for the Aztecs, as now the pressure of an undefeated season is off and now, they can play loose and have some fun.
For the Aztecs, the one seed in the conference tournament has been locked up for some time now, so they can let it all hang loose for the final two games of the regular season. They host Colorado State for Senior Night on Tuesday and follow that up with a trip to Nevada next Saturday. After that they can go after the MWC conference title and a two seed in the NCAA.
For now, this one will be a bit of a bitter taste.