UNLV Secured the sweep at home against Air Force on Monday.
Jenkins Jr. leads the way for UNLV to outlast Air Force 69-64 in Game 2
The Runnin’ Rebels secure two wins thanks to a top notch performance from David Jenkins Jr.
LAS VEGAS, NV–The Runnin’ Rebels closed their series against the Air Force Falcons at home on Monday night with a come back 69-64 win. This comes after a hard fought game-one by both programs on Saturday, which resulted in a 68-58 win for T.J. Otzelberger’s squad.
Both teams managed to keep game-two just as close, with several lead exchanges occurring in the first-half before a run by the Falcons helped secure a 34-28 lead going into halftime. Air Force walked out of the locker and managed to hold their lead until 10:33 mark when a layup by senior big man Cheikh Mbacke Diong broke a 41-41 tie to give UNLV their first lead of the half.
After that both sides exchanged a series of three-pointers to continue a hard fought second-half. But a three-pointer by freshman guard Nicquel Blake at the 8:31 mark was the difference maker. As each side continued to exchange buckets, but the Falcons ultimately couldn’t catch up.
The x-factor in this second game was junior guard David Jenkins Jr., who came off of the bench to drop 28 points, on 6-8 shooting from downtown. Including four made triples in the second-half to help keep Air Force at bay until the final buzzer. “Overall, it was good to see David step up for us. He had that aggressiveness offensively – that’s the guy we need out there every night. When he’s playing with that level of tenacity and competitive spirit, he can be great for us.” Said head coach T.J. Otzelberger of Jenkins Jr. after the win.
Coach Otzelberger is one hundred percent right, if Jenkins Jr. can shake off his inconsistent spurts he continues to encounter, having averaged just 7.3 PPG, shooting 8-24 (.333 FG%) and 4-12 (.333 3P%) in his prior three games. He is clearly a difference maker and the perfect compliment to Hamilton who does majority of his damage inside the arc and driving through the lane.
Though David Jenkins Jr. was definitely the Player of the Game with his hot shooting hand, UNLV rallied as a team to improve on their first-half shooting performance of 11-22 from the field (50%). To capitalize on made deep balls and overall shooting 14-23 (60.9%) in the second-half to secure the win (outscoring Air Force 41-30).
Air Force: A.J. Walker, Series stats: 19.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG & 3.0 APG, shooting 13-23 (.565 FG%) and 8-14 (.571 3P%) in 40.0 MPG.
It’s well established that Walker is the clear go-to scoring threat for Joe Scott in year one back at Air Force. Which must make it near impossible to find any breathing room offensively for the 6-2 junior guard. His 19.0 PPG was series best and his hot shooting from beyond the arc was what kept the Falcons in this series at all.
Walker has a lot on his shoulders as the team’s leading scorer and facilitator. With not many other vetted options in both categories, his presence on the court is a must for Air Force. Leading to a tiresome 40.0 MPG logged in both games. Walker’s workhorse performance this season is nothing short of impressive and let’s hope that famous Academy conditioning holds up. Because he currently leads the league in minutes played per game at 36.3 could still use more help to avoid a last place conference finish.
🤯 AJ WALKER 🤯pic.twitter.com/c7Rzr2JR6E
— Air Force Men's Basketball (@AF_MBB) February 9, 2021
He would go on to receive help in game two from sophomore big man Nikc Jackson. Who dropped 18 points in just 18 minutes of play, including shooting 3-5 from three-point territory. Jackson came out hot, knocking down his first three field goal attempts while also dishing out a couple of assists to get Air Force in the lead.
Though his performance on the night is nothing to scoff at, foul trouble late in the first-half cooled the 6-8 big man down. So we didn’t see him back in rhythm until the last five minutes of the game. In which Air Force was already too busy playing catch up.
UNLV: Bryce Hamilton, Series stats: 18.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG & 4.5 APG, shooting 16-22 (.727 FG%).
David Jenkins Jr. had a big part in Monday’s win, but he was virtually non existent in game one (2 points in 17 minutes), so the player spotlight for UNLV goes to Bryce Hamilton.
— UNLV Men's Basketball (@TheRunninRebels) February 9, 2021
Hamilton’s return to the court this series proved crucial to T.J. Otzelberger’s squad as his 18.0 PPG this series led all UNLV players. His absence against in-state rivals Nevada was very apparent. As the 6-4 wing not only provides a scoring touch (18.2 PPG) but also leads the team in steals (1.6 SPG) and is second in assists (3.8 APG) and rebounds (5.8 RPG).
It’s Hamilton’s consistency in all areas on the floor which makes him so valuable to UNLV. When scouring the UNLV men’s basketball Twitter feed, looking for a Bryce Hamilton highlight, none of them were flashy. But the fact is Hamilton knocks down shots, many of which come from inside the arc in pure one-on-one situations. So all-in-all we knew how important he was to UNLV’s attack before, this series was just another reminder.
Mountain West Standings After the series:
1) Utah State 14-5 (11-2)
2) Colorado State 14-4 (11-3)
3) Boise State 14-4 (10-3)
4) San Diego State 14-4 (8-3)
5) Nevada 14-7 (9-5)
6) UNLV 8-9 (5-5)
7) Fresno State 7-7 (5-7)
8) Wyoming 10-9 (4-8)
9) San Jose State 5-12(3-10)
10) Air Force 4-14 (2-12)
11) New Mexico 5-11 (1-11)
The Falcons head home to begin a four game home stand beginning with Fresno State this Thursday. Justin Hutson’s Bulldogs second game versus current conference leader Utah State Saturday was postponed, due to health and safety concerns. The postponement appears to be coming from the Aggies side of things as their scheduled series with Wyoming this week has also been postponed. No word yet on if this will affect their series with the Falcons this week or not.
If not, the extremely quick turnaround doesn’t provide much time for rest. But after their series with the Bulldogs this week they get a week off before welcoming New Mexico as guests in Clune Arena. The Lobos should be very familiar with their opponents court. As they will be hopefully using it to “host” Wyoming next week before they face the Falcons the following week in what appears to be shaping up to be the battle for 10th place.
The Runnin’ Rebels prepare to head back on the road for a four game stretch that begins on Thursday in Boise. As Leon Rice’s Broncos are looking to secure a couple of bounce back wins after getting swept by a red-hot Nevada team this past week. Boise State has dropped three of their last four, after embarking on a program record breaking thirteen-game winning streak before that.
Though this tells us Boise State is surely beatable and sweep-able after last week’s performance, the Broncos may just be experiencing a little mid-season fatigue as other top teams in the conference have this season.
Still, UNLV already has one series split with a top-half Mountain West opponent in Utah State earlier this season. I wouldn’t put my money against the Broncos but surely think UNLV has the personnel to make Thursday’s series start interesting.
Larry Muniz covers college basketball as a writer for Mountain West Wire and WAC Hoops Digest. Also as a co-host of the college basketball podcast “Hoops Talk W/Jay & Larry”. He is also a USWBA Member.