COLORADO SPRINGS – Just call it Groundhog Day II
Another road game for the UNLV Rebels. Another big dud.
Senior guard Michael Lyons scored a game-high 27 points and forward Mike Fitzgerald added 18 points and eight rebounds as Air Force cruised to a 71-56 Mountain West victory over the Rebels on Wednesday night at Clune Arena.
DeLovell Earls finished with 12 points and the Falcons (15-8, 6-4 MW), who raced out to an early 28-15 lead and led by as many as 24 points midway through the second half, moved into a tie for third place with San Diego State, a 66-60 loser at Colorado State.
Air Force, which outrebounded the Rebels, 35-24, and held a 13-0 edge in fast break points, also snapped a 11-game losing streak dating back to a 65-53 home win on Jan. 12, 2008.
Remember when the Rebels were once playing for NCAA Tournament seeding? Now they’re playing for their NCAA Tournament lives.
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Freshman guard Katin Reinhardt led UNLV (18-7, 5-5) with 15 points, all in the first half, but left the arena with an ice bag wrapped around his left shoulder which he injured in the second half.
Reinhardt said the shoulder was hurting him when he tried to shoot and also said he was in pain afterward.
“It’s hurting really bad,” the freshman from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., said.
It was the fourth consecutive road loss for the Rebels who have also dropped six of their last seven away from the Thomas & Mack Center. The only win during that span was a 82-75 upset of then No. 15 San Diego State on Jan. 16.
“We are incredibly disappointed with that performance,” UNLV Dave Rice said. “It’s inexcusable. … We did not match what (Air Force) brought, and that is absolutely inexcusable.”
“It’s really unexplainable,” senior point guard Anthony Marshall said. “We knew coming in that we were playing a very good Air Force team that battled us in our house.”
One certainly has to wonder about the mental makeup of this UNLV squad, which appeared to possibly finally turn the corner in an underachieving season with an impressive 64-55 home victory over Mountain West leader New Mexico on Saturday.
Instead, the team once again lacked focus. Two players – starting guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and backup swingman Savon Goodman – missed the bus to the arena. And star forward Anthony Bennett, obviously frustrated by the physical nature of the game, got a technical foul for throwing the ball into the chest of Lyons after a layup by Dejean-Jones had cut the Air Force lead to 56-39 with 11:56 to go.
It was also Bennett’s fourth foul. He never got a chance to pick up No. 5 as UNLV coach Dave Rice sat him the rest of the way.
“We can’t have those kinds of plays,” Rice said. “One of the things as I build this program is that it all has to be about team. … and that’s not a team play. That’s going to be inexcusable. … That’s not what this team, that’s not what this program, is going to be about.”
“He just threw the ball at my chest,” Lyons, who had been wrestling with Bennett in the post, said. “I don’t know. … he’s young and I just let it slide.”
Bennett finished with eight points, eight rebounds and three turnovers in 22 minutes of action.
The Rebels now return home for back-to-back home games against San Diego State on Saturday night and red-hot Colorado State on Wednesday. Then it’s back to the Front Range for another difficult road game at Wyoming.
“We’ve dug ourselves a hole in this conference and we just have to take it game by game and get better,” Marshall said.