Runnin’ Rebels vs Fresno State

Runnin’ Rebels (4-6, 1-0) | Fresno State Bulldogs (2-5, 0-1)

Despite not having two main rotation players, UNLV found a way to get a tight victory to open conference play. They traveled to Save Mart Center in Fresno and pulled off the close win in double overtime over Fresno State, 81-80.

Junior guard Jonah Antonio missed his fifth straight game with a left-hand injury. Team co-captain and senior guard Elijah Mitrou-Long also sat out the game due to a broken left thumb, which he suffered earlier in the week in practice. Mitrou-Long was announced to miss the next 6-8 weeks, a big blow for the Runnin’ Rebels, who are already short on depth.

With those two sitting out the game, they looked to junior forward Donnie Tillman to lead the way. The reigning Pac 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year scored a career-high 28 points, including some clutch free throws late in the overtime periods. It was perhaps Tillman‘s best game in a UNLV uniform, as his team looked to him for his experience of playing in a bigger conference against their first Mountain West Conference opponent.

The Runnin’ Rebels also needed the efforts of Bryce Hamilton, in possibly the best game of his career as well, to win the tight contest. The sophomore guard recorded a career-high in points and rebounds with 21 points and 14 rebounds, respectively. It also happened to be his first career double-double, which included the game-tying basket to send the game into overtime. The team’s leading scorer Amauri Hardy also contributed 18 points, going 44% (4-9) from beyond the arc.

Fresno State was led in scoring by senior guard Noah Blackwell, who scored 18 points while shooting 62% (5-8) from the field and 57% (4-7) from three. Senior forward Nate Grimes also contributed in the form of a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Mustafa Lawrence and Orlando Robinson also scored in double figures for the Bulldogs, adding 16 and 12 points, respectively. Grimes and Robinson are both Las Vegas natives.

UNLV head coach TJ Otzelberger was understandingly happy after the close victory, mainly because it was another game that had to be decided in overtime. He stated in the past after their tough loss to SMU that he was tired of losing games in the final moments of crunch time and tired of the moral victories.

Heading into this game against the Bulldogs, the Rebels had lost three games decided in overtime, including their previous contest against Cincinnati. The fourth time was a charm for the Runnin’ Rebels as they finally earned a hard-fought victory in an overtime game. The game ended in double-overtime, making it even more dramatic.

It seems like they had learned some things from their heartbreaking losses earlier in the season, to end up leaving Fresno with the conference opening win. They will have to continue to learn from and use their experiences if they want to win more hard-fought victories in the monster that is conference play.

As for what’s next for Otzelberger and his team, they will resume non-conference play for their next four games. Their next conference opponent will be the defending conference champions Utah State on New Years Day. Before returning to the Thomas & Mack Center to face off against Pacific on December 18, UNLV will have to play another road game against BYU in Salt Lake City.

That game is on Saturday, December 7, at noon. It will only be available on BYUTV, so if you still want to hear all the action, you will need to tune in to ESPN Radio 1100 Las Vegas.


Isaiah Torres

Twitter: @Isaiah_Torres24

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