UNLV forward Roscoe Smith probably summed it up best.
“The rim just wasn’t kind to us today,” he said after the Rebels clanked their way to a 63-52 loss at No. 10 San Diego State on Saturday afternoon at Viejas Arena.
UNLV (11-7, 2-3 Mountain West) shot a season-low 30 percent from the floor, including a dreadful 8-of-33 (24.2 percent) in the first half en route to a 34-20 halftime deficit. The Rebels, who had just one assist at intermission, finished with a season-low five assists.
San Diego State (16-1, 5-0) entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in field goal percentage defense (35.8), second in points allowed (55.9) and sixth in 3-point field goal percentage defense (26.8). Those figures will improve after the Rebels made 2-of-18 beyond the arc (11.1 percent) and connected on 21-of-70 field goal attempts for the game.
The official play-by-play had UNLV missing 11 layups, including six in the first half, but it seemed much more than that. Some were contested but many were not. The Rebels two top scorers, guards Bryce Dejean-Jones (15) and Deville Smith (13) were a combined 12-of-44 from the floor and credited with six missed layups.
“We got a lot of layups but they went in and they came out,” Dejean-Jones said. “We couldn’t even believe it ourselves.”
“I think we got a lot of good opportunities at the basket,” Dejean-Jones added. “Just didn’t fall tonight. I think we did a great job of fighting back and trying to come back from this tough deficit we had in the first half.”
No doubt the Aztecs deserve part of the credit for UNLV’s ugly offensive numbers. But the Rebels missed a number of open looks early while digging a 28-11 hole over the first 16½ minutes.
“I thought we had some good looks early that didn’t go in and we lost our confidence a little bit,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “One of the biggest things was that we dug ourselves too big a hole in the first half. It’s hard against a terrific team like San Diego State to dig yourself from a hole. (But) I thought we battled for the entire game.”
UNLV clawed its way back to within five points, 50-45, on a nifty spinning drive to the basket by Deville Smith with 5:43 remaining. But the Rebels managed just three field goals the rest of the way, including a meaningless dunk by Khem Birch with 36 seconds left that ended the game’s scoring.
The Rebels played well enough defensively to win the game, holding San Diego State to just 33.9 percent shooting. But the Aztecs made 13 more free throws – San Diego State was 21-of-27 from the line compared to 8-of-11 for UNLV – and also finished with a huge 19-7 edge in second chance points, many coming on rebound dunks when Rebel defenders didn’t block out.
“Both teams from a defensive standpoint did a great job,” Rice said. “The difference in the game came down to (San Diego State) making more free throws. They were able to get to the line and we weren’t. I thought there were times today when we settled probably for tough jump shots.”
The Rebels, who split the road trip from hell thanks to Wednesday night’s 76-73 upset of defending Mountain West champ New Mexico at The Pit, were surprisingly upbeat afterward. Several rounds of clapping could be heard in the locker room before the players departed for the long five-hour bus trip back to Las Vegas.
“Everyone is battling, understanding their roles and gelling together as a group,” Roscoe Smith, who finished with his 12th double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) of the season, said. “We have 13 more games left. Next, we go back home to face Utah State and I know that we are going to play very well.”
Xavier Thames led San Diego State with 18 points, including 11-of-12 free throws, and Josh Davis finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds.
The Rebels will try to snap a two-game home losing streak on Wednesday night when they host Utah State (12-5, 2-3) at 8 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Check out UNLV coach Dave Rice’s postgame press conference video below: