UNLV’s five-game winning streak was snapped in a 67-61 defeat to Boise State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West Tournament.
The Rebels were without senior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long, who suffered a knee injury against San Jose State. He practiced yesterday, but in a limited role and his absence was felt by the Rebels on the floor.
“It was really difficult,” Bryce Hamilton said. “You know, Eli is a huge spark for us. We missed him today. We just couldn’t get it done.”
T.J. Otzelberger was not going to use the injury to Mitrou-Long as an excuse, because they have delt with injuries through the season, but he knows how important he is to the Rebels’ success.
“We caught an unfortunate break with one of our key members of our team who wasn’t able to play for us today.”
It would be hard to speculate if the outcome would be different, or how much of an impact Mitrou-Long would have had on the game if he actually played. But given how poorly the Rebels shot, you would think he would have provided some support on offense.
UNLV shot 31.6 percent from the field, including 33 percent on shots in the paint. The Rebels knocked down five of 12 three pointers in the second half, but its poor free-throw shooting hurt the Rebels. UNLV missed 10 free throws and shot 61.5 percent.
Down a ball handler, the Rebels committed 14 turnovers. The Broncos took advantage and scored 12 points off UNLV’s mistakes.
UNLV trailed for over 35 minutes. They took the opening lead on a Jonah Antonio three and got the lead back on a Hamilton three at the 16-minute mark, but they never saw the lead again. They cut the deficit to a single possession a few times but could never get over the hump.
Hamilton was the shining star, as he has been all conference season, with his 24 points. Hardy finished with 14 points and Jonah Antonio made four three-pointers as part of his 13 points.
Even though the Rebels exited the tournament after one game, there was still plenty to be proud of on this Rebel team this season.
”As far as our group,” Otzelberger said, “couldn’t be more proud and honored to be the coach of these young men. The work they put in every day and the fight that they had even down to the finish there makes me really feel fortunate to be their coach.”
Coleman said that he felt like the Rebels were playing its best basketball when it mattered the most. He also noted that the lessons he and his teammates learned this year were more than basketball.
“You know,” Coleman said, “(its) bigger than basketball, I feel like we came together as a group. It’s a new staff, new players, a lot of guys from last year and this year, and I feel like it was an up-and-down year, but it was a great year for us. We grew as young men. It’s not the ending we wanted, but I’m happy with what we did this year.”
Tough decisions will have to be made in the offseason. Currently, there are eight new recruits coming into the basketball program, and there are only three graduating seniors. There will be a time and a place to make those tough decisions, but for now, Otzelberger already has his mind set on next season.
“I’m excited to get started on next season. I know our guys may not quite be ready for this and in some ways maybe I’m not, but I want to start practice tomorrow. I love the young men we have in our program. I’m excited about the future of this program…we believe in what we’re going to do moving forward, so we’re really excited about our future.”