Rebels stop Fullerton, settle for Big West tie

FULLERTON, Calif. ----The locker room celebration was limited to a few handshakes and a couple of sodas for those not too tired to drink them.

New Mexico State beat Fresno State to gain a share of the Big West Conference title with the second-ranked UNLV Rebels. The champagne corks might have been popping for the Aggies, but coach Jerry Tarkanian’s team has a bigger trophy in mind.

After whipping Cal State Fullerton 103-85 on Saturday night, before a Titan Gym crowd of 4,000, the biggest UNLV cheer occurred when Tarkanian said his team had Sunday and Monday off. The Rebels will return to the gym on Tuesday for the second season.

UNLV finished the first one with an overall mark of 26-5 and conference record of 16-2. Fullerton fell to 12-15 and 6-12, respectively. The Rebels finished in a tie with the Aggies but can still claim their eighth conference title in as many years.

New Mexico State will be the top seed as a result of the tiebreaker system. The two squads split their regular-season matchups. The next step is the record between the third-place team. UNLV split with UC Santa Barbara, while New Mexico State won both outings with the Gauchos.

The Rebels will play the winner of the Fullerton-UC Irvine game on Friday at 9 p.m. in the conference tourney, which begins on Wednesday at the Long Beach arena. New Mexico State will face the winner of the San Jose State-Fresno State contest at 1”30 P.M. on Friday.

“Being the number two seed doesn’t really bother me,” Tarkanian said. “We’re more interested in the seedling of the big (NCAA) tournament.”

He was glad to be rid of Fullerton for the time being.

“I thought we were playing really well, then it looked like we ran out of gas. I didn’t know if we were going to hang on at the end. I’m so happy we are where we are. Now we’re going to take a couple of days off. The kids aren’t going to even be around a basketball.”

UNLV certainly enjoyed being around it against the Titans. The Rebels scored the first six points, thanks to Anderson Hunt’s two three-pointers, and never looked back to see if the Titans were gaining on them. They weren’t.

Hitting 67 percent of their shots the first half, then 10 of their first 11 in the second, the Rebels led by as many as 27 (78-51) before altering.

David Butler led six Rebels in double figures with 26 points and even rebounds.

Hunt, who has been in a slump lately, broke out of it. He connected on 9 of 12 from the field to 22 points. He also handed out 10 assists and didn’t commit a single turnover.

Greg Anthony had 15 points and nine assists. Stacey Augmon scored 12, and Moses Scurry and Larry Johnson rounded out the attack with 11 each. Johnson also yanked down 12 rebounds. Fullerton’s Cedric Ceballos led everybody in scoring (34 points) and rebounding (18).

“It felt good to get the day off (Friday),” Hunt said. “But I think we’re still tired. I feel we’re still fatigued as a team. Those two days off will help.”

If having Friday off is any indication, the Rebels should be fairly effective during the tournament. UNLV hit 65 percent of its shots from the field and 75 percent at the foul line. Fullerton could manage only 40 percent from the field, and had no answers for UNLV’s running game.

That was the real difference in the game. The Rebels forced only 12 turnovers, but converted most of those into points off the fast break. Even when the Titans managed to sink a bucket, UNLV was pushing the ball up the court in search of the easy basket.

“We didn’t minimize Las Vegas,” Fullerton Coach John Sneed said. “And they had their running game going at their best. They shot well from the running game. They have three ways they can beat you out the transition.

“It works effectively off a make, a miss and a turnover. You can’t really hold them down. They had one of their best shooting nights all year. Ceballos had an up and down game. He played well tonight because he likes up-tempo games.”

Ceballos is also an excellent garbage play. The senior forward is always in the right place. He had 11 offensive boards, but hit only 9 of 17 from the foul line. Ceballos also hit only 12 of 27 from the field.

“He’s a great player in my book,” Johnson said. “We’re still not running down the loose ball very well, and that is where he excels. I thought we played all right. Our running game was going. It’s not really a letdown (sharing the conference title).

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