Early foul trouble, trouble grabbing rebounds and trouble handling the basketball were the downfall for Coach Cliff Ellis' Tigers, who were obviously sluggish after a 10-day layoff for final exams.
Surprisingly, the Tigers were whipped on the backboards by a 41-27 margin. Ellis said that was the big difference in the game. However, the turnovers were a significant factor, too, with 21 on the night, many of the unforced variety.
Following a 10-day layoff for final exams, the Tigers were sluggish for almost the entire game.
Brandon Robinson and Ronny LeMelle led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points apiece. Robinson did most of his damage in the first half. He also led the Tigers on the boards with seven rebounds in 38 minutes of action. LeMelle, who added five rebounds, had a rough night handling the basketball with six turnovers.
Nathan Watson, who was three of six on three-pointers, scored 11 for the Tigers.
Marco Killingsworth got into early foul trouble and fouled out of the game with nine points and three rebounds while playing just 21 minutes. Compounding the problem inside was that Kyle Davis picked up three quick fouls and finished the night with just 15 minutes of playing time.
The Runnin' Rebels used a balanced scoring attack to improve to 6-3 this season. Odartey Blankson led the way with a double-double of 16 points and 13 rebounds. The four other starters also scored in double figures with Romel Beck getting 13 points, Demetrius Hunter 12 and J.J. Edwards and Jerel Blassingame added 11 points apiece.
Except for the rebounding, the statistics were close. UNLV shot 50.9 percent and Auburn finished a 49.0. Auburn was 6-15 on threes while Vegas hit 5-21. Auburn was 13-21 at the foul line while UNLV hit 19-28 free throws.
With a crowd of 11,817 taking in the action, Auburn took the early lead on an Ian Young three-point jumper, but the Runnin' Rebels took the lead began to build a lead midway through the first half. The Rebels led by 13 points at 34-21 before the Tigers made a mini-run.
The Tigers got the margin back into single digits in the final minute thanks to a jumper by Young, a free throw by Robinson and two free throws by LeMelle.
Vegas more than doubled its 39-32 halftime lead in the second half, going up 60-44 with 11:43 to play.
Despite their less than impressive play, the Tigers still had a chance to pull out a victory in the final minutes.
A basket by LeMelle with 3:22 left cut the margin back under double digits at 72-63. Then Nathan Watson hit his second three-pointer in less than a minute to cut the gap to 72-66 with 2:55 left.
Auburn then stole the ball twice with its fullcourt press, but couldn't turn either play into points. The Tigers were then forced to foul and the home team hit its free throws to stretch the final margin to 13.
"The biggest difference in this game was the rebounding," Ellis said. "It starts with our big guys and there is no excuse. We ought to be rebounding better."
The Tigers have to make a quick turnaround as they take a red eye flight home for a Monday night game vs. Georgia State that tips off at 7 p.m. at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.