Rebels’ Banks shoots his way to MVP award in NIT

NEW YORK---UNLV head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian has given Freddie Banks “the green light” to shoot whenever he pleases.

Well, almost whenever he pleases.

Banks might have run a few red lights inside Madison Square Garden Saturday night, but there’s little doubt who deserved to win the Most Valuable Player award in the preseason National Invitation Tournament.

Banks’ 31-point extravaganza gave the third-ranked Rebels a 96-95 double-overtime victory over Western Kentucky in the title game.

Banks fired the ball up 30 times in the game (14 more attempts than any of his teammates), but 15 points came from three-point range---an area that has college coaches from the East frowning and the 56-year old Tarkanian all smiles.

In Friday’s semifinal against Temple, Gerald Paddio swished a 20-foot, three pointer to give UNLV a 78-76 victory.

Paddio was off the mark Saturday night, however, converting just 3 of 3 from the field and 2 of 7 outside the three-point circle.

But the Rebels have turned come from behind victories into an art form from 19 feet, 9 inches.

In the first half against Western Kentucky, the Rebels shot 21.1 as a team and Banks “led” the way by going 3 of 15 from the field---1 of 8 from three-point land.

“The first half, my shooting was terrible,” sad Banks, a 6-3 senior who attended Valley High School. “In the second, I executed more and got much better shots.”

“I don’t know what as wrong in the first half but I’ve been coming on strong in the second half. “

The entire UNLV team came on strong in the second half, led by Banks’ 19 points, plus 16 from forward Armon Gilliam, 13 from backup guard Gary Graham and nine from junior center Jarvis Basnight.

The Rebels shot 59 percent from the field after intermission and wound up losing the rebounding war to the much taller Hilltoppers by just 58-54.

In the second overtime, Banks scored seven points and drained the 45-shot clock with the Rebels delay-game, four-corners offense.

“In overtime, I was just trying to take control of the game, which coach wanted me to do,” said Banks, who also handed out seven assists and collected three steals while playing 49 of 50 minutes.

“He (Tarkanian) wanted me to run the offense and work for a good shot.”

“Freddie just takes it upon himself late in the ballgame and he did it tonight,” Tarkanian said.

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