With help from freshman Katin Reinhardt, who scored a team-high 21 points, the Rebels managed to turn a tightly contested game into a comfortable win while taking a 10-point lead with 2:08 to play that was too much for CSU to overcome.
The performance from Reinhardt comes just two days after he shot 1-for-10 and scored just two points in the MW tournament quarterfinals against Air Force.
“This is a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff,” Reinhardt said. “I struggled last game, but they just said, ‘pick your head up, you’re going to play great next game.'”
An 11-4 run by the Rebels in the final 4:50 of the game propelled UNLV past CSU, which could not find an answer for Reinhardt, or freshman forward Anthony Bennett, who added 19 points in the game.
“They just came out and out-worked us,” CSU senior center Colton Iverson said “They were grabbing all the loose balls, especially in the first half. I don’t know, we didn’t come out with a lot of energy, I felt. We let the crowd get into it.”
CSU managed to keep the contest close throughout the game thanks in large part to Iverson, who notched a game-high 24 points and 16 rebounds.
Despite Iverson’s efforts, CSU was doomed by a poor shooting performance, especially from long range.
The Rams shot just 25 percent from three-point range as many of the Rams’ usual scorers failed to produce on the offensive end.
Senior guard Dorian Green, a vital part of the Rams’ offense, who just recovered from a right ankle sprain, scored just five points in eight minutes of play while going 2-for-7 from the field. Senior forward Greg Smith scored four quick points in the first five minutes of the game, but was held to just two points in the entire second half.
The effort that the Rebels put forth on the floor was clearly more than that of the Rams and the performance from senior forward Pierce Hornung bears that out.
Hornung, who is usually one of the most fundamental players on the court, was held to just four points and five rebounds, only one of which was an offensive rebound.
Hornung came into the game Friday night ranked as the third-best offensive rebounder in the nation in terms of total offensive boards.
“We were very uncharacteristic tonight as far as taking it from the timeouts to the game,” CSU coach Larry Eustachy said. “Pierce was very uncharacteristic. One offensive rebound.”
The result Friday places UNLV in the Mountain West Conference’s championship game tomorrow afternoon when the Rebels will take on New Mexico, which beat San Diego State earlier on Friday 60-50.
“We know it’s a quick turnaround for tomorrow. Great respect for New Mexico, for (coach) Steve Alford, what that program as accomplished,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “But we’re excited for the opportunity and understand the challenge it will be.”
For the Rams, the loss ends their run at the conference championship and they will have to wait until Sunday when the team awaits its first-round matchup in the NCAA tournament as the Rams will likely be an at-large selection in the tournament.
“Whoever they give us, probably going to be a really good team, we’re going to have to put out a better foot than we did today,” CSU senior guard Wes Eikmeier said. “I think Coach is going to get us ready, get us playing Colorado State basketball, be at our best. I think we can be very dangerous down the stretch here.”