In UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger’s first season at the helm of the Runnin’ Rebels basketball program, things haven’t gone as smooth as the first-year coach had hoped. Growing pains, injuries, a tough early schedule and minimal fan support have plagued the program this season. Regardless, Otzelberger understands the bigger picture and knows it’s a work in progress heading into tonight’s Mountain West Conference opener at Fresno State.

The Rebels (3-6) are looking to steal a coveted conference road win, something that is very difficult in the MWC. In what is the earliest conference start in UNLV history, the Runnin’ Rebels are facing a struggling Fresno State team (2-4) coached by former UNLV assistant Justin Hutson.

Otzelberger is hoping the Rebels can settle in late in the game and not go away from was working best.

“We’re usually at a good position at halftime, and at some point in the middle of that second half, we kind of come apart,” coach T.J. Otzelberger told the Review-Journal. “We get a little panicked. We over dribble. We take challenge shots. And when we try to go to the rim, the defense collapses, and now they’re getting blocks and tips and they’re going the other way in transition.”

After suffering its third overtime loss of the season at Cincinnati on Saturday, the Runnin’ Rebels attempt to get back on track against Hutson and top scorer Jarred Hyder (15.6 points per game). Statistically, the two teams are almost identical. While Fresno State averages a little more than two points more game than UNLV (70.3 to 68.1), the two teams both allow 75 points per game, and almost exactly the same amount of rebound and assists per game. 

Junior guard Amauri Hardy leads three Runnin’ Rebels averaging in double-figure scoring with 17.7 points per game (3rd in MWC), while junior forward Mbacke Diong is the team’s leading rebounder with 10.6 per contest (2nd in MWC, 15th in nation). Utah transfer Donnie Tillman is also expected to play an integral role against the Bulldogs after being punished for a lack of punctuality on Saturday for being late to a team activity. Tillman logged just 22 minutes, but did not make a shot the entire game. 

“We have a very high standard in our program in everything we do,” Otzelberger said. “It’s important to be on time.”

Besides Hyder, the Bulldogs will look to 6-foot-8 forward and Las Vegas native Nate Grimes (11.7 ppg, 9.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG) and 6-foot-10 freshman Orlando Robinson (10.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG) to help attack UNLV’s lack of size down low.

The Rebels are coming off their third overtime loss of the season after playing Cincinnati tough on the road.

Wednesday’s game will be televised by AT&T SportsNet with Drew Goodman, Dave Bollwinkel and Jenny Cavnar (sideline reporter) calling the action. Jon Sandler, former Runnin’ Rebel Curtis Terry and Steve Cofield (sideline reporter) will handle the UNLV radio call, which may be heard live on ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas and online via the UNLVGameday App and TuneIn.