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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels head coach T. J. Otzelberger talks with UNLV Rebels guard Caleb Grill (3) during the Rebels’ season opener against Montana State at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020.

UNLV played its best game of the young season on Tuesday — and still got beat by Alabama, 86-74, on the second day of the Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C.

It was a dispiriting result for UNLV, which shot the ball well from the outside and cleaned up its rebounding issues from the previous day’s loss to North Carolina. But Alabama found enough cracks in the defense to shoot 48.3 percent from the field, led by John Petty’s 22 points.

UNLV is now 0-3 on the season, with all three defeats coming by double digits.

The first half belonged to Caleb Grill. The sophomore hit his first four 3-pointers and scored 16 points in the opening frame, allowing UNLV to head into the break tied, 38-38.

Grill finished with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including 7-of-12 from 3-point range. He also chipped in six rebounds and three steals.

Grill’s hot hand kept UNLV close deep into the second half, but reinforcements never arrived. Bryce Hamilton, who led UNLV in scoring in each of the first two games, battled through an errant shooting night to tally 17 points, but he stacked up a lot of missed jumpers along the way (7-of-21 from the field). The same was true of David Jenkins, who connected on just 4-of-14 attempts for 12 points.

Alabama’s 3-point shooting proved to be relentless. The Tide opened the second half by knocking down consecutive triples to make it 44-38, and they made seven more shots from beyond the arc in the half to pull away. For the game, Alabama hit 15-of-40 from deep.

Grill got a steal and a breakaway dunk and then hit a long, contested 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions to even the score, 53-53 midway through the second half. A Jaden Shackelford 3-pointer gave Alabama its largest lead, 69-58, with 7:40 to play. A couple minutes later, Jahvon Quinerly rolled in another 3 to push it to 74-60, and UNLV was cooked.

Otzelberger pointed to those stretches in the second half as the turning points.

“There was 30 or 32 minutes of really good basketball,” Otzelberger said. “We can’t have those lapses or stretches where we let them get going. I thought there was one to start the game, one to start the second half and then another one in the balance, just around that eight-minute media [timeout]. Those three stretches kind of got the best of us.”

After getting bulldozed under the basket by North Carolina and its embarrassment of frontcourt riches on Monday, UNLV found Alabama’s guard-oriented approach to be a more palatable matchup. Otzelberger’s team boxed out, scrambled after loose balls and ultimately limited the Crimson Tide to five offensive rebounds and five second-chance points.

Despite the solid rebounding and Grill’s career performance, it’s clear that UNLV won’t win many games this season unless Hamilton and Jenkins are both making shots at a high rate. That has not happened yet, and now the scarlet and grey will try to salvage their trip to “Maui” when they take on Davidson tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.

Jenkins in particular has been unable to dial in his outside shot through the first week of the season. After hitting better than 45 percent from 3-point range in his last year at South Dakota State, he has connected on just 6-of-23 from deep to start the 2020-21 campaign. He has made just 7-of-32 overall from the field (21.9 percent).

Otzelberger, who coached Jenkins at South Dakota State, believes Jenkins thrives off being an underdog and that he is at his best when playing with “a chip on his shoulder.”

“We need to get David back to that guy,” Otzelberger said. “Tonight we saw glimpses, but I know what he can do. He’s got to stay the course, embracing the things that are difficult in terms of defensively, rebounding, and take that focus away from his offense. And I think his offense will come back to him.”

Grill thinks UNLV is close to breaking through and that more court time together will do more to improve their performance than anything else.

“We’ve just got to do the little things like coach has been asking us,” Grill said. “I think for us it’s just getting in a rhythm playing together because there’s only three returners from last year. Once we all get working together I think we’re going to be really successful down the stretch.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at

Article written by #LasVegasSun