Utah State basketball: UNLV tops Aggies, 73-62, with strong second half
Logan • The start was the first sign of trouble ahead for Utah State.
On the first possession of the game, UNLV center Khem Birch recovered an offensive rebound for a slam dunk that seemed to shake the Spectrum. Within two minutes, he had racked up two blocks.
It was an early indicator that Birch and the rest of the Rebels would give the Aggies a tough afternoon with speed, length and pure athletic ability that eventually would overwhelm the home team.
A three-game winning streak ended Saturday for Utah State (15-10, 5-8), which suffered a 73-62 defeat against UNLV the second double-digit loss of the season to the Rebels.
While the Aggies played harder and more closely with UNLV than the last time out, it made no difference when so many of their shots were blocked, and so often they couldn't catch up with the guards driving by them.
"From start to finish, their athleticism gave us problems," said coach Stew Morrill, who lost his first bid at earning his 600th win. "We couldn't get clean looks at the basket because of how athletic they were and how hard they played. We couldn't score at the block, because they were blocking so many shots."
Unlike the last meeting, it wasn't a runaway win for UNLV. The Rebels had to fight hard against Utah State, which crashed the offensive glass for a 21 offensive rebounds leading to 20 second-chance points. The Aggies were particularly effective running their offense through Jarred Shaw, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds.
But Utah State had trouble shooting all game, managing only 33.8 percent shooting from the floor. And as UNLV made more than two-thirds of its shots, the pace was impossible to keep up, even with all the offensive rebounds in the world.
UNLV's Bryce Dejean-Jones had 17 points and was most successful simply driving by his defenders. Kevin Olekaibe shot over them for a game-high 21 points. Birch nearly recorded a triple-double, finishing with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 9 blocks in a lockdown performance in the paint.
Utah State led at halftime, 31-29. That lead quickly was swept away as the Aggies missed four straight shots and gave away a turnover, leading to a 10-point swing within the first four minutes of the half.
The Aggies would tie it up just once more, at 45, before falling behind for good.
"We were just trading baskets, and we didn't get enough stops that we usually do get," said TeNale Roland, who had 12 points. "They did a good job on the fast break getting out and getting easy baskets."
UNLV's 11 blocks were the most any Utah State opponent had racked up since 2010.
Utah State's other offensive options after Shaw and Roland were limited: Spencer Butterfield was the only other double-digit scorer with 11 points. Preston Medlin and Kyle Davis, who had each scored double figures in the last three games, were held to a combined 10 points on 4-for-25 shooting.
Morrill attributed the struggles to the superior ability of UNLV, which has had an inconsistent season but still is near the top of the league standings.
"They're a handful," he said. "When they play like that, they're a handful."
OÂ The Aggies shoot only 33.8 percent from the field.
•Â UNLV makes 69.2 percent of its shots in the second half.
• Jarred Shaw leads Utah State with 20 points and 12 rebounds.