LOGAN, Utah – As the final seconds of a 73-62 win over Utah State ticked off the clock at Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Saturday afternoon, UNLV forward Khem Birch began waving goodbye to the boisterous Aggie student section.
Birch was assessed a technical foul for taunting but the reigning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year had reason to gloat a little.
The 6-foot-9 junior forward from Montreal came within a blocked shot of a rare triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high nine blocks as the Rebels (17-8, 8-4 Mountain West) became just the 18th team since 2000 to earn a win here.
Guard Kevin Olekaibe scored 21 points, including 4-of-8 3-pointers, and Bryce Dejean-Jones added 17 points for UNLV, which has won six of its last seven games.
“Khem, he’s just a beast in there,” Dejean-Jones said. “You drive in the paint, I just look up because I know he’s something swatting away. You’re just wondering what direction he’s going to swat it. He’s a terrific player on both ends of the court.”
The Rebels won despite giving up 21 offensive rebounds that led to 20 second-chance points. However, UNLV held the Aggies to just 33.8 percent shooting thanks in large part to 11 blocks while also shooting a blistering 56.6 from the floor for the game.
“The whole story of the game is how their athleticism controlled everything,” Utah State coach Stew Morrill, who lost his first bid at his 600th coaching win, said. “You have to give (UNLV) credit. They were on it defensively. We couldn’t get clean looks, we couldn’t score in the post, they blocked shot after shot, they chased our perimeter guys off screens with their athleticism.”
“I don’t know how many blocks Khem Birch had, but he affected the game,” said Utah State center Jarred Shaw, who finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds. “The way they were blocking shots and rebounding, I just give credit to him and his team for winning.”
The Rebels return home to host second place New Mexico (19-5, 10-2), a 90-72 winner over Nevada, on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
MyLVsports.com staff report
Photo courtesy UNLV Athletics