Fatigued Rebels escape 10-count at Utah State

LOGAN, Utah ---- The second-ranked UNLV Rebels were too tired to fight. They resembled a beaten boxer looking for a place to land.

Had they been playing a team with a little more vim and vigor, it’s very likely they would have dropped their second Big West Conference contest in a row.

As it turned out, UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian found enough fuel in their tanks down the stretch to hold on to an 84-82 victory over Utah State Thursday night before a capacity crowd of 10,270, at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

“After the first five minutes we couldn’t guard anybody,” Tarkanian said. “Our guys have nothing left. I don’t know what to do about it. They were just letting their men go by them.”

“They couldn’t stop us down low, and we couldn’t stop them from anywhere. We were just luck to get a victory. Utah State played very hard. They played as well as they could.

The win raised UNLV’s Big West Conference mark to 15-2 and overall record to 25-5. The Aggies fell to 8-9 and 14-14, respectively. They have yet to beat any of the top four league teams this season. They also fell to 0-17 lifetime against the Rebels.

In an outing that drew a lot of media attention due to the postgame brawl which occurred on Feb. 1 the first time the squads met at the Thomas and Mack Center, the game was very calm, until an explosion occurred behind the UNLV bench to start the second half.

The bench was positioned over a steel grating that apparently someone had managed to get inside and rig two bombs filled with blue water. They went of while the substitutes and coaches were on the bench. Everyone in the area was soaked and shaken. It resulted in a technical foul against Utah State.

“I didn’t know what happened,” Tarkanian said. “I just know that this blue water came all over the place. It didn’t really bother us. I think our starters were already on the floor. I thought Utah State did a good job controlling things.”

Fearing the conference referees would put his team in a hole if the Rebels played too physical; Tarkanian went to the 25 and amoeba zones from the beginning. As a result, the Rebels seemed to never get into the flow early on.

They led at the half 42-39 behind the inside play of David Butler and Larry Johnson. While the twosome dominated down low, Anderson Hunt continued to struggle from the outside The guard missed his first seven shots in the first half and another three in the second before finally making a layup at the 11:36 mark.

“I don’t want to really comment right now,” Hunt, who was nursing a twisted right knee, said. “I’m not really hurt. That’s o excuse. I'm just not shooting well right now.”

Fortunately for the Rebels, it didn’t matter because of the enormous height advantage inside. Butler finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds; Johnson had 31 and 10, respectively. They were certainly the difference.

UNLV suffered greatly without the inside services of Moses Scurry, who along with Chris Jeter, missed the game because of suspensions handed down by the university and the conference after the Feb. 1 fight.

The only incident occurred the start of the second half when the bombs went off. Building manager David Huckaby said no one as sure exactly what happened.

“The bombs appeared to be set off electronically,” Huckaby said. “We wont know for sure until the local police check it out (on Friday). It’s a real mess down there. I think it was food coloring and water. “That’s what made it so sticky.

“There wasn’t supposed to be anybody in here (on Thursday) without some kind of clearance. That’s what bothers us. I think it wasn’t that dangerous, but it was scary.”

Utah State stayed close to the Rebels thanks to four straight three-pointers in the last three minutes of the game. UNLV’s Johnson and Greg Anthony hit some big shots down the stretch to preserve the victory.

Anthony did miss the front end of a crucial one-and-one, which gave Utah Sate the last shot. Darrel White missed a three-pointer with six seconds left. Kendall Youngblood then missed two tip-ins before Butler slapped the ball out front.

White ran it down, but missed a desperation hook shot from 52 feet at the buzzer. As Tarkanian put it, “I looked like it was going in.”

Fortunately for UNLV, it did not.

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