San Diego State‘s dominant opening half was too much for UNLV Saturday, as the Aztecs went on to win 82-71 at Viejas Arena.
Not that head coach Brian Dutcher was completely satisfied – he “didn’t like the way we closed the game,” he told San Diego Sports 760 of the 23-point lead that the Runnin’ Rebels cut in half.
“We have a higher level we can play to and we have to find a way to do it,” he said.
The Aztecs (20-5, 11-2 Mountain West) started the scoring with a bang on dunks by Nathan Mensah and Keshad Johnson.
By the 9:01 mark, they had a 19-point lead, established during a 14-3 run and capped by a dunk by Matt Bradley, who had grabbed the ball off a bad pass by Keshon Gilbert.
UNLV (16-9, 5-8 MW) stayed cold, shooting just 25% for the half and going 1-for-14 with no field goals over almost the final nine minutes before the break.
SDSU, shooting 52%, took a 43-23 advantage into the locker room, as Johnson led the way with 12 points. Lamont Butler added six rebounds and four assists as the Aztecs scored seven second-chance points in the half.
The Aztecs started the second half rough, with a shot-clock violation and a foul by Mensah on UNLV’s EJ Harkless, as he attempted a three-pointer.
The Runnin’ Rebels’ top scorer made two of the three shots, but Bradley righted the ship with a three of his own. Harkless, though, cut the Aztec lead to 14 after a steal by Elijah Parquet off Butler, but SDSU built it back up to as much as 23 with just under five minutes remaining thanks to a three by Adam Seiko.
Though Harkless fouled out, UNLV pressed the Aztecs as the clock wound down, narrowing the gap to 11, as SDSU failed to score in the final 3:35 of the game and had four turnovers.
It was a sore spot for the team, which finished with 21 turnovers – 13 in the second half – including six by Darrion Trammell and five by Butler. Bradley acknowledged it to Sports 760, saying the Aztecs got “a little lax” with the ball late.
Seiko, with six three-pointers, led SDSU with 18 points, followed by Bradley with 17 and Johnson with 14. Mensah had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Harkless led all scorers with 24.
SDSU, with its final five games of the regular season on the horizon, hits the road for a 8 p.m. contest Wednesday against Fresno State (9-15, 5-8 MW), which fell to Nevada Friday.