FORT COLLINS, Colo. – It was no secret that the Mountain West schedule-makers didn’t do any favors for UNLV.
Three of the first four games on the road against arguably their three biggest challengers for a conference title, starting at New Mexico and concluding with back-to-back games at San Diego State and Colorado State in a four-day span. And that tough grind seemed to catch up with the Rebels in the mile-high altitude here Saturday afternoon during a 66-61 loss to the Rams at Moby Arena.
Guard Dorian Green scored 24 points, including six in the final 2:52, and forward Greg Smith added 16 points as Colorado State (15-3, 2-1) used a late 10-2 run to close out the win.
Senior point guard Anthony Marshall scored 21 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead UNLV (15-4, 2-2), which finished with zero — that’s right, zero — fast break points and shot 41 percent from the floor, including 27.6 percent in the first half.
“There’s no doubt that we were tired to start the game,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said when asked if his team was fatigued.
“It’s not an excuse, and we have to find a way to win the game. But absolutely we were tired to start the game. It’s been tough travel this week and playing at altitude. … But we lost the game because we didn’t get enough defensive rebounds, and Colorado State made a few more plays to win the game than we did.”
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“I don’t think anybody in the Mountain West has had a tougher two weeks than us,” Marshall said. “Playing at The Pit, then Air Force, then to San Diego State and then to here. You can’t use that as an excuse and you just battle through that. We’re trying to win a conference title. You can say you’re tired all want but you’ve just got to battle through it. And tonight we really didn’t do that.”
Colorado State, well rested after crushing Air Force at home, 79-40, on Wednesday, came into the contest ranked No. 1 in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-14.5. And it was a key offensive rebound following a missed 3-pointer by Green with 37 seconds remaining that was pivotal.
The Rams, who scored 14 of their final 16 points at the free throw line, held a 62-59 lead at the time of Green’s miss. But the Rebels were forced to foul Green shortly after Hornung’s big board, and he sank both shots to make it a five-point game, 64-59, with 22 seconds to go.
“We did a great defensive job on that possession,” Rice said. “We were going to play it out, with the deficit being three … and did a great defensive job, and then we just didn’t get him blocked out.”
Marshall cut the CSU lead to three again with a drive to the basket, but guard Wes Eikmeier closed out the scoring a few seconds later with two more free throws.
Colorado State finished with a slight 36-34 rebounding edge, including a game-high 10 from muscular 6-foot-10, 260-pound senior center Colton Iverson.
“We kept UNLV off the boards enough to win,” Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy said. “I told the team whoever wins the rebounds wins the game, and we got two more rebounds than them.”
The Rams also did an outstanding defensive job on Rebel freshman forward Anthony Bennett, who came into the contest leading the Mountain West in scoring with a 19 points average but finished with just nine points on 4-of-8 shooting.
“When he got the ball, we were on him,” Eustachy said. “His eight shots for the most part were hard fought. He is a great player and we put numerous players on him. We did a great job, because he has put up monster numbers.”
Bennett was clearly worn down midway through the game, emphatically gesturing to the bench to come out after huffing and puffing down the court. He quickly collapsed on the bench and threw a towel over his head.
“It was a very physical game,” Rice said. “It was the first experience for some of our guys with how physical Coach Eustachy’s teams are.”
The Rebels fly home today and take a much-needed day off before beginning preparation for Thursday night’s home game against Wyoming (14-3, 2-2), a 58-45 upset winner over No. 15 San Diego State on Saturday in Laramie.