Rebels’ Season Comes to an End with Quarterfinal Loss to Fresno State in Mountain West Tournament
There was no glorious comeback, no thrilling overtime periods, just a melancholic locker room with seven players that gave their everything to keep Runnin’ Rebel basketball’s tournament hopes alive.
The team with every reason to give up fought and grinded on every possession until the final buzzer effectively ended their season at the hands of the Bulldogs, 95-82, for their second straight quarterfinal loss in the Mountain West Tournament.
“I was really proud of the guys’ engagement,” said interim head coach Todd Simon. “They wanted it. They were emotional. They were into the game and gave everything they had and came up short.”
Sophomore guard Patrick McCaw had himself another big night at the Thomas & Mack Center, scoring a game-high 28 points on 17 shots while senior guards Ike Nwamu and Jerome Seagears made the most of their final college basketball game scoring a combined 29 points and a career-high 11 assists for Seagears.
Just 24-hours before an already shorthanded UNLV team would take on Fresno, the Rebels endured a ruling triple-overtime contest against Air Force and the question of stamina was on everyone’s mind heading into the next round.
“It was definitely tough,” Seagears said. “We had it in us, but you could see towards the end it was tough playing with six guys went into a triple-overtime game.”
The Bulldogs surged from the opening tip-out, making their first seven shots to jump out to a 17-12 lead over the Rebels. Freshman forward Stephen Zimmerman Jr’s first two games against Fresno State didn’t play out how he expected and it looked as if he had something to prove by scoring UNLV’s first seven points, however, Fresno State capitalized on UNLV’s turnovers, scoring 16 points off of nine Rebel miscues.
The Rebels would end the first half on a 6-0 run, where senior walk-on Barry Cheaney was the catalyst, hitting a corner 3. Those would be his only points of the game, however, being the fan favorite he is, the crowd erupted in the cheers as the Rebels brought the game back within five points at halftime, 40-35.
The Rebels fell into a deeper hole to start the second half after Fresno State came out hot on a 6-0 run. UNLV responded with a 6-0 run of their own to ignite their offense but hit a snag when Zimmerman Jr. picked up his third foul with 17:02 to play and headed to the bench with the Rebels down five. Fresno State took advantage of the lack of post presence and crushed UNLV on the inside with sophomore forward Karachi Edo scoring 6 of his 12 points within a minute span, pushing Fresno’s lead to nine before the sophomore would turn the T&M into his personal dunk show. Edo dunked his following three possessions and dominated any presence the Rebels tried to have inside the paint.
“We tried to get Karachi going early, and we weren’t able to,” said Fresno State head coach Rodney Terry. “As the game went along, he really settled in and did the simple things we needed him to do, screens, rolls, play off guys, finish. I thought he did a good job of that for us in the second half.”
When the MW Player of the Year, Marvelle Harris picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half, reserve Terrell Carter stepped up big time for the Bulldogs. The sophomore center, 6’10 but 285 pounds overpowered a physically smaller Zimmerman on three back-to-back possessions to push Fresno’s lead to 11 with just over eight minutes to play.
“[Carter’s] a big body. He can get things done for us in the paint,” Harris said. “I think by him getting into Zimmerman, forcing him to have to guard and deal with that big post presence, it got to him, got him tired and opened up the lane a little bit. He did a great job sealing when guards were driving and finished at a high level.”
UNLV fought each possession in hopes of making a late push, but with each Rebel basket, Fresno State countered as they pushed their lead to 13 with 36 seconds left, taking the semifinal hopes out of UNLV’s hands. The X-factor in the second half was bench utilization and 50/50 balls. The Bulldogs had 17 second chance points over UNLV’s six and their bench outscored them by 10 points.
Now that UNLV’s season is officially over a hectic offseason is about to begin. Talks from the beginning of the season about Zimmerman being a one-and-done continue to buzz around the Vegas native and he prepares for the upcoming decision. For anyone following his draft stock, nbadraft.net has the freshman at No. 15 in their Top 100 prospects.
Zimmerman hasn’t made an official decision yet nor did he hint about the coaching situation impacting his decision, saying postgame in the locker room, “At the end of the day, I still have to talk to my parents and family about that.”
McCaw on the other hand, has another big decision to make about his own future. The sophomore guard played a much bigger role than expected this season and has delivered some extremely impressive performances for the Rebels. The question is there whether he’ll be returning for another season or testing the waters being a potential lottery pick come June.
“Everything plays a factor,” McCaw said. “The coaching staff that recruited me here, even coach Rice, that’s the only reason I came here, that’s a huge deal. Also, a lot’s going to factor whether I come back to UNLV or not. The coaching change or whatever comes up, that’s going to be a big thing for me.”
The Runnin’ Rebels will miss the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year and will likely default not to play in any other NCAA postseason tournaments after an injury ridden season. A lot of uncertainty lurks around the future of UNLV’s basketball program.
Time to let the front office rebuild the puzzle…
Follow Barbara on Twitter for more on Runnin’ Rebel Basketball and UNLV Athletics @b__farkas
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