UNLV might want to think about going into the mulligan business for its athletic teams.
The football team is currently 0-4 in Marcus Arroyo’s first season, so he certainly would like to start over. The women’s basketball team got upended 78-75 by Northern Arizona Wednesday in Lindy Larocque’s debut. She definitely wouldn’t mind a do-over.
But the worst transgression was from T.J. Otzelberger’s men’s basketball team.
UNLV, a 12-point favorite at home, got ambushed, outgunned and outworked by a well-schooled Montana State team which took the Rebels to the woodshed, 91-78, at the empty, fan-less Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday night to open Otzelberger’s second season at the helm.
Final score from the @ThomasAndMack #UNLVmbb drops its season opener to @MSUBobcatsMBB, 91-78— UNLV Men's Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) November 26, 2020
Runnin' Rebels will now travel to Asheville, North Carolina, for the @MauiInv, which starts Monday pic.twitter.com/fxzNuaIv6g
“I was hoping our momentum from last season would translate to understanding what we have to do and where we need to be (defensively),” Otzelberger said. “Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed right now and I wish we could go out and practice right now.”
Maybe athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois got her States mixed up when she scheduled the season opener. She and Otzelberger would have been better served had they faced Chicago State instead of Montana State. Then again, the way the Rebels didn’t bother to guard anybody, the result might’ve been similar.
The Bobcats shot 56% from the floor for the game, led by as many as 22 points in the second half and didn’t have any fears whatsoever. Not even the cardboard cutouts that cover three rows of the Thomas & Mack Center nor the fake crowd noise they piped in (fans were not allowed in the building) didn’t intimidate Danny Sprinkle’s team.
All kidding aside, UNLV should send a thank-you note to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for rescinding the directive to allow gatherings of 250 people or 10 percent of the Thomas & Mack’s 18,500-seat capacity. Had fans been let in, they would’ve booed the Rebels off the court. That’s how dispiriting their performance was Wednesday.
Either way, Otzelberger and his team don’t get a do-over. They have to pull it together in hurry as they’ll travel to Asheville, N.C. for Monday’s opening round of the Maui Invitational to face a North Carolina team which is ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press’ preseason poll and will not be anything close to the struggling Tar Heel squad of a year ago.
“Yes, it’s different times but you have to love this game, you have to want to compete,” Otzelberger said. “Our defense has to be our backbone. Our defense has to get our offense going, but tonight we got it backward.”
UNLV led for all of 95 seconds. The Rebels trailed by as many as 22 in the second half as they refused to show any defensive intensity while hoping they could shoot their way back in it.
That never happened. Not hitting shots from the floor (just 45%) and committing 18 turnovers made a solid foundation for Otzelberger’s embarrassment.
Montana State point guard Xavier Bishop dominated as he scored 22 points. UNLV guard Bryce Hamilton led all scorers with 27 points.
“I think there were a lot of first-game jitters,” said UNLV guard Marvin Coleman said. “We haven’t had a lot of practice time but I’m not going to use that as an excuse. There’s no excuse to lose on our home court in our first game. We’ve got to get better. It’s as simple as that.”