Bryce Hamilton emerged from the scorching locker room to start the second half of UNLV’s clash with Michigan’s No.4 on Friday. After scoring seven of UNLV’s last nine points in the first half, the senior keeper knocked down a pair of 3s, then boxed a silky midrange jumper to tie the score at 40.
Unfortunately for UNLV, there were still 17 minutes left at that point, and despite Hamilton’s ‘in-zone’ moment, Michigan used their superior size, talent and experience to methodically pull away for a 74- win. 61 at T-Mobile Arena.
In UNLV’s first three games, all wins, the Scarlet and Gray managed to combine 40 minutes of fierce defense with a Hamilton push to make tight decisions. This formula just didn’t work out against a Michigan-caliber team, despite UNLV executing that game plan better than they’ve done all season.
After suffering his first career loss, head coach Kevin Kruger avoided the label of ‘moral victory’, although he was clearly proud of his team for the way they faced a legitimate national title contender. .
“This is the fourth game in a row that we’ve improved offensively,” Kruger said. “If there is a bright side, it’s that we are improving offensively. And defensively we competed like crazy, we just couldn’t get those saves when we needed them. “
Indeed, Michigan has proven extremely difficult to stop, especially for an UNLV team that is undersized in the frontcourt. The Wolverines shot 9 of 15 around the rim, scored 30 points in the paint, and worked their way to a 21-4 advantage in free throw attempts (a disparity Kruger admitted was likely level) .
Michigan center Hunter Dickinson and forward Moussa Diabate worked tirelessly down the lane and combined to score 27 points on 12 of 16 shots.
Shortly after the Hamilton jumper tied the score at the start of the second half, Michigan embarked on a 13-2 run to regain control. Dickinson and Diabate each scored at the rim during that streak, while goaltender Eli Brooks hit a 3-runner and hit a pair of free throws to restore the lead.
UNLV has never come close to less than six points in the past 10 minutes, as Michigan responded to every point by running and converting on offense. For the game, Michigan scored 51.0% of its field goal, a season-high for a UNLV opponent.
Kruger put his cap back on the Wolverines for keeping their cool in the face of the UNLV’s defensive intensity.
“I thought the guys were keeping it,” Kruger said. “It’s a well-oiled machine, Michigan. They are where we want to be. You can just see how well they are in sync, how well they are in harmony with each other.
As Michigan stayed the course and continued to score with an effective clip (1.21 points per possession), UNLV had a much harder time getting the ball into the basket. After catching fire in the middle of the game, Hamilton has made just two of his last eight attempts and finished 8 of 22 on the field.
Hamilton finished with 21 points, a high for the team, but offered props to the Michigan team’s defense.
“It was tough,” Hamilton said. “It’s a good defensive team. They use their athleticism very well.
Mike Nuga and Donovan Williams scored 12 points each but shot 5 of 14 and 5 of 12 respectively. UNLV only logged on 39.7% of its shots at night.
It was good enough to keep UNLV close for a while, but Kruger doesn’t want his team to just hang around against top-level competitors.
“I would love to sit down and say we’re glad we held on, but honestly that’s not the feeling right now,” Kruger said.
UNLV is now 3-1, with a consolation game against Wichita State scheduled for Sunday at T-Mobile Arena.
Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.
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