San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher and players Chase Tapley, JJ O'Brien and Jamaal Franklin…
San Diego State falls to UNLV 72-70
Bennett had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and UNLV hung on in the final seconds to beat San Diego State 72-70 in front of a raucous, sellout crowd of 18,577 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
After a 14-0 run that help give UNLV its largest lead at 67-57, the Aztecs came back and had a chance to go ahead in the final seconds, but Jamaal Franklin was whistled for a traveling violation driving to the hoop with two seconds remaining.
"I'm trying to find five guys to play with passion and heart," said UNLV coach Dave Rice, whose team is 14-1 at home. "Some of (Bennett's) shots were hard. He was patient. Khem Birch continues to get better and better. He has a bright, bright future."
Birch added 16 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks for the Rebels (19-7, 6-5 Mountain West).
Bennett, who had three blocks, had 16 second-half points and finished 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
"Teammates were giving me the ball, and I couldn't do it without my teammates. Shots were falling," said Bennett, who played just nine first-half minutes as the Rebels trailed 40-34 at the break. "It was the defensive part, and that's why coach didn't play me. Coach told me to get my energy. I think I can get better on the defensive end."
Chase Tapley led the Aztecs (18-7, 6-5) with 22 points and six rebounds. JJ O'Brien added 15 points, all in the first half, and 11 rebounds. Birch guarded O'Brien in the second half.
Franklin, who finished with 11 points and five steals, also missed a potential tying 3-pointer from the top left arc with 29 seconds left. After Franklin's miss, UNLV's Justin Hawkins made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 71-67.
Tapley hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 71-70. On the ensuing inbounds play, O'Brien tied up Bryce DeJean-Jones, and the Aztecs got the ball on the possession arrow. But Franklin took too many steps.
"We were quick with our shots in the second half," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We wanted Jamaal to have it (on the last play). I don't know if it was a traveling."
San Diego State was coming off another late-game road loss at another loud venue - at Colorado State - on Wednesday, 66-60.
"We've got to make plays at the end," O'Brien said. "These past two games, the fans have been loud. Coach told us to keep our heads up. We always fight back. We've got to make better decisions at the end of the game."
The Aztecs have lost four close games since Christmas.
"That's Basketball 101," Fisher said. "When you have a great season, you find ways to make plays (at the end)."
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