REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV brushes off Aggies’ surge to win, 71-58

Team preps for first road test after knocking off North Carolina A&T

Image

Sam Morris

UNLV guard Wink Adams splits North Carolina A&T forwards Ed Jones, left, and Nicholas Wilson during the second half of their game Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. UNLV won 71-58 and improved to 4-0.

UNLV vs. North Carolina A&T

UNLV forward Joe Darger and guard Mareceo Rutledge grab for a defensive rebound during the second half of their game against North Carolina A&T Saturday at the Thomas & Mack Center. Darger finished with 18 points and four rebounds while Rutledge finished with five points and five boards. Launch slideshow »

Next game

  • Opponent: UTEP
  • Where: El Paso, Texas
  • When: Monday, Nov. 24, 6 p.m.

When North Carolina A&T took a lead on UNLV in the second half Saturday night, three senior Rebels regained control by leading a game-changing run.

Wink Adams, UNLV’s backbone, wasn’t one of them.

Other veteran Rebels helped turn momentum in a 71-58 victory at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“That takes pressure off him and that’s when he excels,” said senior forward Rene “Nene” Rougeau. “We’re trying to work on that by being more reliable. He’s our go-to guy and we have to help him out.”

Senior forward Joe Darger nailed a pair of 3-pointers during that decisive 23-8 run.

“It’s good to be deep and have other guys pick up some slack from Wink,” Darger said. “We still expect him to make big shots, get to the paint and make a play, but it’s good to have some other guys hit some shots.”

For the first time in his five seasons at UNLV, coach Lon Kruger has a perfect record after four games.

Now, the schedule becomes more interesting. The Rebels play at Texas-El Paso (3-0) on Monday night, and they return home for games against California, and Cincinnati or Florida State, next weekend.

“It’s time to step our game up and get better, get rid of some mistakes we’ve made,” Darger said. “It’s our first road test Monday, so we have to be ready for that mindset.”

Playing center last season put Darger in the proper mindset Saturday night, when Kruger shifted to a smaller, more versatile lineup to nullify A&T center Thomas Coleman.

Coleman had his way down low in the first half, hitting all seven of his shots on UNLV’s trio of centers for 14 points.

In the second half, against a more active defense and having to work more on defense against Darger, Coleman faded; he missed his only attempt.

North Carolina A&T (2-2) went 3-for-12 from the field, getting two shots blocked and turning it over three times in the 8 1/2 minutes after it had taken the lead.

Darger’s 3-pointer from the left side, with Coleman trying to hound him, gave the Rebels a 67-53 lead with 3 minutes, 29 seconds remaining.

Aggies sixth-year coach Jerry Eaves said he was flummoxed how UNLV could shoot 15 3-pointers in the second half and still get to the free-throw line 17 times.

“I was a little upset with that because it doesn’t go together,” said the former Louisville player. “They were shooting perimeter jump shots, but there were whistles blowing all the time, too. That was a little unusual.”

Eaves had the Aggies mostly play man-to-man on defense, but they did do some match-up zoning on UNLV’s guards.

Rebels senior power forward Mo Rutledge chipped in with a 3-pointer, and UNLV’s two new guards made some plays of their own during the pivotal stretch of the game.

For Tre’Von Willis, a sophomore transfer from Memphis who jumped off the bench in his first three UNLV games, it was his first start as a Rebel.

And that came despite a slightly separated right shoulder. Willis gauged his strength at about 65 percent.

But his 3-pointer from the right side with 9:14 left pumped UNLV’s advantage to 56-45 and ignited a crowd of 12,732 for the first time all evening.

That was his lone basket, in five attempts, of the game. He finished with eight points, four assists, three turnovers and two steals.

Oscar Bellfield, the freshman who started UNLV’s first three games at the point, came off the bench to score four points, steal three passes and dish out two assists.

It was also revealed Saturday night that Bellfield suffers from asthma, but he downplayed that ailment and his first reserve role as a Rebel.

“Not a big deal,” he said. “Coach was trying something new. Different styles, different positions, different places. It’s cool.”

When UNLV found itself trailing for the first time since the first basket of the game, it was patient – which is what Kruger and his assistants have been preaching all week.

The Rebels worked it to Rougeau on the right baseline, and his mid-range jumper gave them a 46-45 lead.

Rougeau got a hand on Marc Hill’s shot and wound up with two free throws at the other end when he got hacked by Nicholas Wilson with 11:21 left.

Before Rougeau sank his two free throws, the teams zipped to their respective benches for the 12-minute TV timeout.

“Can’t panic,” Adams said. “Nene, Joe, Mo and I went to the bench and said, don’t panic. We told people we need shots and have to make stops. That’s what we did. We kept our composure.”

After Rougeau’s free throws, Rutledge made two free throws and canned a 3-pointer, and the Rebels had secured the lead.

They didn’t secure the game until Darger’s 3-pointer from the left side gave UNLV a 62-51 edge with 5:03 left.

Adams, who had a game-high 19 points, made two free throws before Darger hit another 3-pointer to seal it.

Lesser foes had challenged the Rebels in three of their first four games.

“Another tough one,” Rougeau said. “But we finally got through the week.”

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  1. And now, the real fun starts...BRING IT ON BABY!

    Time to see what we're really made of. I can't wait!!

  2. Yep, Gray. Now we'll see what they've learned over the past week. We'll be at UTEP, and every other road game, with our usual smothering coverage.
    We'll have our analysis first thing in the morning. What do you think about tomorrow?

  3. It is a bit difficult for me to get a sense as to where the team is at right now. So far they have taken care of business but ideally they should have. As Grayback said we will really start to get a feel/understanding of the team over the next few games as the competition level obviously rises. I'm just glad I can finally get to see them and I believe GA is doing color to boot.

  4. Rob, I think it's going to be a close game -- one where we might have to come from behind to get. But, in the end I believe our seniors are too seasoned to let the team accept a letdown in this matchup.
    Cal is going to be an interesting game as well. They (Cal) have started the season strong, and hopefully the Rebs won't be fatigued from all the game play.

  5. Well, Gray, at least the Cal game is four days after UTEP. For whatever that's worth. Cal is strong. Keep an eye on Findlay alum Jorge Gutierrez, too. They didn't know what they were getting in him. He is awesome.
    Roth, yep, about time they're on TV, eh? Should be very interesting. I am not sold on UTEP's top two kids, though. They haven't played very good competition, to say the least. They have a big-un named Kareem, goes 285. But the Rebels have three centers, so that's a lot of fouls if Kruger wants to go that route. Don't think that kid is an ace at the line, either. So ...
    I think Darger's last two games have been a good sign, especially since he's been fighting a little cold. Nothing too serious. I'd go with UNLV in a tight one, maybe two Wink free throws at the very end to win it.
    have fun

  6. Roth, you are correct. Greg Anthony is doing the game on television, CBS College Sports (or whatever that name is...) ... 6 pm, 333 on the Cox digital package. Enjoy