In a game they needed to win, Utah State brought the intensity and energy in the second half to run away from UNLV and advance to the Mountain West semifinals with its 74-53 victory.
The Aggies used a 6-0 run late in the first half to draw even 24-24 going into the locker room and that would be the closest the game would be the rest of the way for the Rebels as Utah State outscored UNLV 50-29 in the second half.
Utah State converted on nine of its first 11 shots to begin the second half, after only shooting 32% from the field in the first half, to go up nine and build a lead UNLV could never cut into.
“We talked about and emphasized the importance of those first two minutes after the half and that we needed to get stops. They converted on nine out of 10 out of the locker room, and we put ourselves in a deficit that we were chasing the whole second half,” T.J. Otzelberger said after the loss.
There was a six minute stretch in the first half were UNLV held Utah State without a made field goal, but UNLV could not grow its lead larger than six points. With only four first half assist, Otzelberger said the ball was not moving as well as he would have liked it and that they did could have played a little bit better on the defensive side in those final few minutes.
UNLV had no answer for anything Utah State was doing offensively. The Aggies hit 19 of its 34 shots in the second half and held a distinct advantage in the paint, out-rebounding UNLV 25-12 and holding a 20-8 advantage in points in the paint.
The Rebels did a great job early in establishing some offense in the paint, its first eight points all come in the paint. They did a great job limiting Neemia Queta who only had five points and one field goal in the first half. But Queta found his groove in the second half as he scored 13 second half points.
UNLV struggled most of the night in the paint after they had early success. They finished the night six of 16 on layups, including a stretch where they missed seven straight after making three of its first four.
“We played great defense in the first half and in the second half we came out slow and with a good team like Utah State you can’t do that, they’re well coached and very mature. I felt like our defense was not as great in the second half and they took advantage of that,” Bryce Hamilton said after the game.
Hamilton led the way for UNLV with 22 points. Four Utah State players were in double figures. Quetta (18 points and 13 rebounds) and Marco Anthony (15 points and 13 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles for the Aggies.
UNLV has struggled all season putting together a whole 40 minutes and playing consistently throughout the game, specifically struggling defensively. Hamilton noted that he believed the whole season would have gone differently if they were more consistent throughout the season.
“We knew tonight to be successful that we were going to have to be the more physical team. I felt like our guys really answered that call in the first half. I thought we had great ball pressure and hand pressure, and did an excellent job defensively...but to beat a really good team like Utah State, you have to sustain it for 40 minutes. Unfortunately we were not able to do that tonight,” Otzelberger said.