UNLV senior guard Bryce Hamilton spoiled Colorado State’s perfect home record in front of a sold-out crowd of green and gold at Moby Arena Friday night, scoring a career-high 42 points to upset the Rams 88-74.
“It means so much more against a very good team,” Hamilton said. “Playing on the road, with a hostile environment, it’s a great win. I’d say it’s probably one of my favorites. My best game.”
A hostile environment with 8000 screaming CSU fans wasn’t the only thing working against the Rebels in this game.
UNLV was missing three players, including two starters to injury, and on top of that, they were 15 point underdogs heading into this match against the No. 1 ranked offense in the Mountain West.
On paper, Colorado State had the upper hand, they were on a five-game winning streak and ranked No. 22 in the nation by coaches.
The Rams entered the game ranked third in the country in field-goal percentage at 50.2%. During the game, UNLV held them to just 32.1% (9 of 28) in the first half and 43.1% (25 of 58) for the game.
To top off the Rams’ resume, they even cracked the AP Top 25 list for the first time in five years earlier in the season when they were one of the four remaining undefeated teams in the nation.
With a nearly perfect record on the season, the 16-1 Rams looked almost unstoppable led by guards Isaiah Stevens and David Roddy.
Stevens ranks fifth in the nation in assist turnover ratio (3.3) and is No. 13 in the Mountain West (MW) in points per game (15.1). Roddy is No. 6 in MW in points per game (18.6) and No. 2 in field goal percentage (57%).
The Runnin’ Rebels, on the other hand, were coming off a painful loss to San Diego State earlier in the week and had only won one road game so far this season. Without the team’s second-leading scorer, Donovan Williams, the Rebels were presumed as the underdogs.
But despite the odds, literally, as CSU had an 85% win probability before the game even started, the Rebels were mentally ready to step up, fill the voids, and ultimately come out on top.
“Guys knew their number was gonna be called,” head coach Kevin Kruger said. “They were gonna have to go in and play. But I think the start that we had kinda gave everybody confidence.”
It was all about confidence, which was the key factor to the solid shooting performance the Rebels put on throughout the game which started at tip-off and ended at the final buzzer.
Royce Hamm Jr got the scoring started when he clocked in the first three points of the game and from there, UNLV took it away.
Defense by the scarlet and gray set the tone early in the match as CSU wasn’t able to score in the first four minutes.
CSU was able to get behind by a point, three times in the opening minutes, but were never able to take the lead or even get to within one possession for the rest of the game.
A 12-1 run by the Rebels midway through the first half would be the changing point in the match, as UNLV took a double-digit lead and never looked back.
In the opening half, Hamilton couldn’t seem to miss, scoring 24 points including six three-pointers to put the Rebels up 43-25 at half. Before this win, UNLV was 10-1 when holding the lead at half.
It wasn’t just Hamilton that created the Runnin’ Rebels lead though, as a team, the Rebels shot 58.6% from the field and 53.3% from behind the arc in the first half, offensively one of the best shooting performances by the Rebels all season.
Offense wasn’t the only thing cooking the first 20 minutes, as forwards Victor Iwuakor and Royce Hamm Jr helped hold David Roddy, CSU’s leading scorer and ranked No. 2 player in field goal percentage in the Mountain West, to zero points.
“If we don’t build a lead we have in the first half,” Kruger said. “The game probably goes in another direction, just the way they were playing confidently in the second half.”
The second half opened a bit differently, CSU began cleaning up their offense and shot selections, but with a three-pointer made by Mike Nuga, it would kill any momentum they had gained.
After Nuga’s three, UNLV would continue to score, evening stretching their lead to as big as 22 points with under ten minutes to go. As the clock began to wind down, both teams began to become more aggressive as CSU started running a full-court press.
Both teams combined for 41 free-throw attempts in the second half, most coming from the final three minutes as the Rams were trying to get the ball back on offense, but with UNLV shooting 19-of-24 from the free-throw line, it wasn’t much help for CSU to make it a game.
Hamilton, Nuga, and Justin Webster would ultimately put the nail in the coffin after making the final free-throws of the game, not only ending CSU’s five-game winning streak but making their home record a not-so-perfect 10-1.
After the team’s 61st meeting Friday night, UNLV is now 42-19 against CSU all-time and 12-10 in Fort Collins.
The game marked UNLV’s first victory over a ranked team since 2020 when it won at then-No. 4 San Diego State.
UNLV scored 1.43 points per possession in the first half against Colorado State, which made for their highest mark this season.
The team ended on 50.9% shooting from the field and 41.4% shooting from behind the arc, Justin Webster and David Muoka combined for 23 of the 25 bench points scored, Muoka was also the team’s second-leading scorer.
Hamilton had himself a career night, finishing the game with a new career-high of 42 points on 21 shots, which puts him tied for ninth-best single-game scoring performance in UNLV history.
Hamilton also had five assists and seven rebounds to go along with his career-high seven made three-pointers.
“Bryce put the team on his back offensively, made some really tough shots,” Kruger said.
Bryce’s 42 points are also the fourth most points scored by a player in the NCAA this season. He is also the first D-l player with a 42-5-5 stat line since Trae Young in 2018.
Friday night, Hamilton became the first UNLV player to score more than 40 points in a game since Trevor Diggs’ 49-point game during the 2000-2001 season.
“I felt good going into the game and everything just worked,” Hamilton said.
Make sure to catch the Runnin’ Rebels as they take on their rivals up north, the Nevada Wolf Pack, on Tuesday, Feb. 1 for Rivalry Red Out, tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. Students can get their tickets for free on UNLVTickets.com.