Gilliam foils LA Tech’s bid to wreck Rebels

After taking a few games off, Jerry Tarkanian’s towel got another workout Saturday night.

The top ranked UNLV basketball team managed to win its own Rebel Round tournament with a 79-75 victory over Louisiana Tech, but the Rebels’ head coach was champing the whole way through.

A crowd of 15,954 in the Thomas and Mack Center watched 6-9 senior power forward Armon Gilliam score a career high 34 points and easily walk away with the Most Valuable Player award.

The victory lifts the Rebels’ record to 9-0 on the season, while Tech evens off at 4-4.

It also marked the 50th victory in 52 games at Thomas and Mack since “Tark’s Shark Tank” opened in 1983.

In the consolation game, Ohio outlasted Duquesne, 87-85.

What had given UNLV convincing victories in its last three starts was not nearly as effective Saturday against the Bulldogs.

A trapping press defense forced 54 turnovers in the Rebels’ two games earlier this week, but Tech handled the pressure well and got several layups after breaking the coverage.

“They played a helluva ballgame,” Tarkanian said. “They really handled our press well. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They got as much out of our press (with layups) as we did (with forcing turnovers).”

The Bulldogs wound up turning the ball over 15 times----just five coming in the second half.

“UNLV is a great team,” Tech head coach Tommy Joe Eagles said. “We knew coming in we would have to handle their press and try to control the tempo of the game. I think we did a fairly good job of that tonight.”

Tech received superb efforts from guard Kelvin Lewis, forward Louis Cook and forward Robert Godbolt.

Lewis ran the club well and finished with 17 points and six assists.

Godbolt controlled the boards with 12 rebounds and also scored a team-high 25 points.

Cook had 23 points and eight rebounds.

Godbolt and Cook were named to the all-tournament team.

But while the Bulldogs had their own version of the “Big Three,” UNLV’s high-scoring trio of Gilliam, Freddie Banks and Gerald Paddio was working on just two cylinders.

Banks, named to the all-tournament team, managed to complement Gilliam’s effort with 17 points of his own, but it came of 5-of-17 shooting from the field.

Meanwhile, Paddio connected on just 3 of 1 shots to finish with a season-low seven. The junior college transfer did collect eight rebounds.

David Willard, making his first start of the season, added eight points.

“Once you spread out their defense it’s easy to get those points,” said Gilliam, who also pulled down team-high 12 rebounds.

The Rebels managed to win despite shooting 41.1 percent from the field for the contest while the Bulldogs converted 44.1 percent (52.7 percent in the second half).

“I think the kids thought it was going to be easy after yesterday’s game (a 105-81 blowout over Ohio),” Tarkanian said. “They whipped our press tonight. I hope to hell we can execute it better in the future. You really have to give them a lot of credit.”

Tech won the battle of the boards, 45-38.

After jumping out to an 8-1 lead in the first two minutes of the ballgame (six points coming from Gilliam), the Bulldogs ran off six straight points in the next minute to narrow the gap to 8-7.

From that point on the score see-sawed back and forth although Tech never was able to take the lead.

The Rebels’ best spurt came three-minutes before intermission when Banks scored seven points and Jarvis Basnight shined on a reverse dunk following a steal near midcourt. However, it was the only field goal Basnight converted in the first half, going 1 for 5.

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