UNLV loses 74-71 in overtime to San Diego State in Mountain West quarterfinals

Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos
DJ Thomas sent the game to overtime with .5 seconds left on a beautiful floater, but it wasn't enough as UNLV fell short 74-71 in heartbreaker.

LAS VEGAS — UNLV won’t be doing any bid stealing this time around.

The Runnin’ Rebels suffered a heartbreaking loss to San Diego State, losing 74-71 in overtime of Thursday afternoon’s Mountain West quarterfinals. Star freshman Dedan Thomas Jr. sent the game to overtime by sinking a thrilling floater to tie the game at 65, but UNLV’s continued mishaps down the stretch still cost them the win.

“We have a lot of seniors on this team, so I really just — we really wanted to win this game for them and just keep going further in the conference tournament,” said Thomas. “Some shots didn’t fall at the end.”

UNLV was without starting center and key rebounder Kalib Boone in the loss. He did make an entrance early in the first half for just one minute but was clearly not himself and was kept out the rest of the way. His absence was felt mightily, as San Diego State outrebounded UNLV 50-31 throughout the game and limited them to just four offensive rebounds in the second half.

“We took a major step forward on that when the Boone brother didn’t play because he is a sensational rebounder,” said San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher “When I look at the stats at the end of the day we outrebounded them 50-31. We had 25 offensive rebounds. That was the key to the game. That was the key we put up in the locker room, and I thought that was the key to the game.”

Boone went through a separate warm-up routine before the game to try and test the ankle, and even participated in the lay-up lines toward the end. Nonetheless, it was clear to everyone who could see him that the ankle just wasn’t ready to play in the game.

Shane Nowell started the game in Kalib’s place as UNLV ran a guard-heavy lineup emphasized on defense. It was still honestly a bit of a shock to see on the pre-game lineup sheet considering Nowell’s absence from the rotation during the regular season.

UNLV’s defense stifled San Diego State in the first half, limiting the Aztecs to just 22 points. It would have been sub-20, but the Runnin’ Rebels allowed Darrion Trammell to hit a three-pointer at the buzzer directly after intercepting Keylan Boone’s inbound pass to send the Aztecs into the break down just five points, 27-22, after what was frankly an absymal offensive first half by the defending national runner-up.

“I couldn’t buy a basket. I missed a lot of layups. As a team we missed a lot of layups,” said Trammell said. “I missed a lot of shots. That was just great momentum. We talked about it going into half.”

Speaking about the mishap that led to the crucial basket, Keylan Boone said “(It was) a bone-headed play by me. Wasn’t really any real great shot we could have got, especially with our backs turned towards me and away from the rim. I was just trying to force a play that wasn’t there”

The problem for UNLV was, save for DJ Thomas and Justin Webster, their offense wasn’t much better in the first half. UNLV could have been up 10 to 15 points at the break, but instead was left completely within San Diego State’s close range striking distance as the second half started. It doesn’t take Jay Bilas to tell you how much more valuable a double-digit lead is than a mere five point lead. Especially when you’re dealing with a team like SDSU who was so clearly in an offensive rut.

As one would have expected, the Trammell three going into halftime was a huge momentum shift for the Aztecs. They outscored UNLV 28-14 in the first 10:30 of the second half, including a 12-0 run, to take a 50-41 lead at that point.

“We were kind of down, and we talked about as a team,” Trammell continued. “That was something positive. We just highlighted that, and we went out in the second half with great energy.”

The Aztec lead stretched to as many as ten in the second half when the Aztecs took a 60-50 lead with 6:33 remaining, but a subsequent 7-0 run by Thomas and Keylan Boone themselves brought the Runnin’ Rebels within striking distance.

Down 64-57 with a minute left, Rob Whaley and Thomas sank back-to-back layups to bring UNLV within three points at 64-61. Free throw woes throughout the game especially struck San Diego State at this point. Jaedon Ledee missed one of his pair with 28 seconds left, leaving the Aztecs with just a four point lead at 65-61 instead of five. After a Thomas make on the other end, UNLV fouled Micah Parrish, who missed both free throws to keep the score at 65-63.

Cue DJ Thomas.

This is where the magnificent freshman pulled another one of his tricks. He danced around Aztec big man Jay Pal with grace, stepping back and then spinning around him before throwing up a beautiful tear-drop that floated right through the net. It was truly an incredible play.

“Coach told me to go get a bucket. Keylan set a great screen to get that switch on me. I felt like I had a great mismatch on me, I felt like I had a great chance of getting the basket,” said Thomas.

“Yeah, just get a bucket.”

Which makes it even more of a shame that UNLV couldn’t finish the job in overtime. A major blow to those efforts came when Shane Nowell hustled and secured a key rebound in the offensive end, but subsequently complained about what he perceived as missed contact and then had the ball stolen from him and taken for an easy basket for the Aztecs on the other end. San Diego State outscored UNLV 9-2 for the remainder of the overtime period and that ended up being enough.

Thomas Jr. had another chance at the win down 72-71 with a second left, but what would have been a second jaw-dropping floater fell short this time along with any NCAA tournament hopes the Runnin’ Rebels had.

However, in the midst of a somber atmosphere in the media room following the game, DJ Thomas dropped a bomb that will keep Runnin’ Rebel fans morale high.

“I’m definitely coming back next year.”