Rebels tip Titans, clinch PCAA title

Cal State Fullerton head coach George McQuarn knew a five-point lead didn’t mean much against UNLV.

The Rebels proved him right, rallying for a 74-64 Pacific Coast Athletic Association win Thursday over the Titans at the Thomas and Mack Center.

The win, in front of a sellout crowd of 19, 246, clinched the PCAA title for UNLV. The top-ranked Rebels improved their conference record to 13-0 and overall mark to 25-1. The Titans fell to 6-7 and 13-9.

“They did what they had to do, when they had to do it,” McQuarn said of the Rebels.

What UNLV did was turn a 45-40 deficit into a 6-52 lead in a span of four minutes. Armon Gilliam, who led the Rebels with 24 points, scored 11 in UNLV’s 20-7 run. The Rebels scored on nine straight possessions during the surge.

“They called a timeout after we went up by five, and I told the kids they were going to at us,” McQuarn said. “They did.”

Gilliam said the Rebels decided at the timeout it was time to take care of business.

“Coach (Jerry Tarkanian) just said, “Come on guys, it’s time to do it,” Gilliam said. “He told us it was now or never. We knew we were going to have to put a rally together.”

UNLV point guard Mark Wade never doubted the Rebels would come back.

“I don’t know if fatigue was a factor, or why it happened, but it finally started to click for us,” he said. “I think that’s a good sign for us. It showed we can be own and do what it takes to pull it out. That’s the mark of great team.”

Gilliam was just 4 of 14 from the floor before helping the Rebels turn it around.

“I didn’t shoot well, but I just had to keep going,” Gilliam said. “I just missed a lot of shots. But I couldn’t stop shooting.”

None of the Rebels shot particularly well. UNLV shot a season-low 38 percent from the floor.

The Rebels got some unexpected offensive help from Wade, who scored a career-high 14 points. Tarkanian gave Wade the green light before the game.

“Coach told me to shoot 20 times, and the team took it as a joke,” said Wade, ho came into the game averaging 4.6 points per game. “But it meant something to me. I just concentrated and hit the open shots.”

Wade hit 4 of 6 shots from the floor, including both three-pointers he attempted. Gerald Paddio added 12 points for UNLV. Freddie Banks, who averages 20.4, scored 11.

“Freddie didn’t get a lot of shots tonight, but that’s OK,” Tarkanian said. “We don’t need him to shoot a lot to win.”

Tarkanian was asked how it felt to win his fifth-straight PCAA title.

“Well, this one we kind of suspected we were going to get,” Tarkanian said. “We figured we had this one a couple weeks ago.”

Richard Morton and Henry Turner paced Fullerton with 20 points apiece.

“They’re a very good basketball team,” Tarkanian said. “I told our guys I thought they were better than auburn and as good as Oklahoma.”

McQuarn laughed when told of Tarkanian’s comment.

“I used to work for Jerry, “ said McQuarn, who was an assistant coach at UNLV from 1975-80. “He’s just looking out for me.”

The Titans were hurt by the loss of forward Derek Jones, who suffered a dislocated shoulder late in the first half.

The Titans had turned a five-point UNLV halftime lead into a five-point edge by hitting their first seven shots of the second half.

The cold-shooting Rebels led 35-30 at halftime, despite a 13 for 35 shooting performance.

UNLV trailed 8-6 early, but scored 10 straight points to take a 16-8 lead. The Titans closed the gap to 16-14 on a pair of hoops by Alexander Hamilton, but the Rebels stretched the lead back out to seven on a three-pointer by Paddio and two free throws by Banks.

Fullerton pulled to within three, but a short jumper by Gilliam gave the Rebels’ their five-point halftime edge.

Gilliam scored 10 first-half points, but hit just 4 of 11 shots from the floor.

The Rebels had a first-half advantage on the boards, outrebounding Fullerton 19-13. Gilliam led the way with six boards. UNLV was outrebounded in the entire game, 34-33.

The Titans were hurt by 10 first-half turnovers and finished with 24, while the Rebels had just 11. UNLV also had eight steals.

The Rebels will play host to UC Santa Barbara at 8:05 p.m. Saturday.

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