Rebels left out in the cold by Sun Devils, 66-56

All was good for UNLV’s basketball team for the first 23 minutes against Arizona State on a chilly Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Runnin’ Rebels, who shot 58 percent from the floor in en route to a 37-25 halftime lead, increased the margin to 45-31 on a 3-pointer by Ike Nwamu with 17:07 remaining.

But Sun Devil coach Bobby Hurley switched things up defensively after that, changing to a 2-3 zone, and the Rebel offense went into the deep freeze. UNLV (8-3) connected on just two of its next 18 shots from the floor as Arizona State (7-3) went on a 26-6 run over the next 13-plus minutes to take a 57-51 lead, and the lethargic Rebels never got closer than four points the rest of the way in a 66-56 loss.

HOW IT HAPPENED: The scrappy Sun Devils, playing without leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman who didn’t make the trip due to what the school called “personal reasons”, seemingly nabbed every loose ball and took it to UNLV on the boards, finishing with 43-30 rebounding edge, including a 16-7 offensive advantage on offensive rebounds leading to a 16-1 edge in second chance points. The Runnin’ Rebels shot a season worst 19.2 percent (5-of-26) from the floor, often settling for long 3-pointers. Arizona State used its superior quickness to repeatedly beat Rebel defenders off the dribble for drives to the basket. UNLV made just one of its final 15 shots as the Sun Devils finished the game with a 35-11 run.

WHO STOOD OUT: Sophomore point guard Tra Holder scored 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three steals to lead the Sun Devils, using his explosiveness to repeatedly penetrate to the basket for layups or to set up teammates. Senior forward Willie Atwood finished with 14 points, including two big 3-pointers down the stretch, while 6-foot-4 senior guard Gerry Blakes added 13 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr. and senior guard Nwamu each scored nine points to lead UNLV.

THE SKINNY: Second half scoring droughts are nothing new for the Runnin’ Rebels this season, who also gave up a 22-6 second half run over an eight-minute span at UC Riverside on Saturday before eventually pulling away for a 73-62 victory.

UNLV coach Dave Rice on his team blowing a 14-point second half lead and getting outrebounded 43-30 by an undersized Arizona State squad minus leading scorer and rebounder Savon Goodman:
“I don’t think it’s necessarily effort, but I think it is a grit thing, there’s no doubt about it. … It’s about toughness.”

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley on rallying for the big comeback win over the Runnin’ Rebels:
“To win on the road is respected against good teams, and I think UNLV certainly has a very good chance to win their league this year. … I feel really good about what I saw against Creighton and then Texas A&M and then NC State, so we’ve beaten some high-quality opponents.”

UP NEXT: UNLV travels to 13th-ranked Arizona (9-1) on Saturday night in a game that will be televised by ESPN2 at 6:30 p.m. The Wildcats hammered Northern Arizona, 92-37, on Wednesday night.

NOTABLE: UNLV sophomore guard Patrick McCaw, who came into the contest averaging a team-high 16.9 points per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor, finished with just five points on 2-of-5 shooting and didn’t score in the final 32 minutes and 40 seconds. … Sophomore guard Jordan Cornish, who had made just 1-of-24 3-pointers coming into the game, was 2-of-3 beyond the arc and finished with six points. … Arizona State finished with a 36-20 advantage in points in the paint. … The Rebels had 16 turnovers while forcing just 12 leading to a 22-11 edge in points off turnovers for the Sun Devils. … UNLV shot a season low 38 percent (19-of-50) from the floor.

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