Rebels rise to the occasion

DePaul falls 88-53 in NIT consolation

NEW YORK – No one stood up to give a pregame speech. Jerry Tarkanian didn’t even raise his voice.

The top-ranked UNLV Rebels preferred to do their talking on the floor of Madison Square Garden Friday night in the third-place game of the preseason NIT.

They made sure DePaul got the message as the Rebels defeated the Blue Demons 88-53 to raise their season mark to 3-1. It was the worst defeat for DePaul since Joey Meyer became head coach six seasons ago.

“I thought our guys showed a lot of character out there tonight,” Tarkanian said. “I don’t like to play third-place games. After we lost (Wednesday night to Kansas), I just wanted to get the hell out of there. But we really came back and played hard.

“I thought the first five or six minutes was the best we could play defensively. We really got after them and took them right out of their game. I’m feeling a lot better now than I was coming into this game”

So does Larry Johnson. The junior post player scored 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds in an attempt to atone for a less than spectacular performance against Kansas. He hit 13 of 19 from the field in 37 minutes on the floor.

“This game helps a little bit,” Johnson said, “but I’m still feeling down about that Kansas game. I didn’t play well at all. I don’t feel any pressure. I don’t notice the double and triple teams.

“I just go out there and try to score every time I can. Stacey (Augmon) told me not to get down. We didn’t do a lot of talking during practice Thursday. We just wanted to come out and show everybody what we can do.”

What the Rebels did was force 31 turnovers, hit 55 percent of their shots from the field and allow only David Booth to finish in double figures with 16. The Blue Demons managed a shooting percentage of just 36 percent against a UNLV defense that felt it had something to prove.

“We didn’t give any speeches or anything like that,” Augmon said. He had 16 points, nine rebounds and seven assists from his swingman, post-man and off-guard positions. “I just told Larry in our hotel room to watch what we would do.

“It was a bad situation for DePaul. Rebel pride comes through after we have a loss. We didn’t let up. We wanted to show New York what the Rebels could really do.”

UNLV displayed its ability early by holding DePaul scoreless through the first five minutes of the game. A free throw by Stephen Howard was the first point the Blue Demons scored. They trailed 9-1 early en route to being down 38-26 at the half.

Tarkanian received good guard play from substitutes Travis Bice and Stacey Cvijanovich when Greg Anthony got into foul trouble and Anderson Hunt twisted his ankle. Hunt could have played, but Tarkanian elected to let him sit out the second half.

Anthony scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds, handed out six assists and collected three steals. He refused to comment after the game, saying his boycott of all Las Vegas media would last the season.

“I thought Greg had a sensational game,” Tarkanian said. “ He did every thing we asked of him. When he runs the ball club like that, it’s tough for us to lose. He helped make sure our guys worked real hard in practice Thursday and today (Friday).”

Outside of Booth, DePaul’s offense was nonexistent. It was the third time in the last 12 months that the Blue Demons have lost to UNLV. Former coach Ray Meyer came up to Tarkanian after the game and said, “Tark you would win the national championship every year if all you had to do was play us.”

DePaul, which lost to St. John’s by one point Wednesday night, fell to 2-2 on the year. Joey Meyer’s team committed the most turnovers in its history and had no answer for Johnson underneath.

“My team was a little embarrassed tonight,” Meyer said. “W didn’t play well at all. We’ve got to chalk this up to experience and go back to the drawing board. You have to five UNLV credit, they played a great game all around, especially Larry Johnson.

“He was as good as they said he’d be. We couldn’t believe we had to play UNLV again, especially with them angry after a defeat. Tark doesn’t lose that often, and he certainly doesn’t lose two in a row on very many occasions.”

UNLV will now be off two weeks before traveling to Norman, Okla., to play the rugged Oklahoma Sooners. Tarkanian said he would give his tem the weekend off before returning to practice on Monday.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” Tarkanian concluded. “Those are great kids. We brought the best team we are capable of bringing to this tournament. We’re happy to come out in third place, all things considered.”

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