Eugene Tanner / AP
Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 | 2:30 a.m.
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Ryan Greene and Alex Adeyanju discuss the Rebels' Diamond Head Classic opening round thumping of SMU on Tuesday night in Honolulu, 67-53. Plus, was SMU's closing of the gap late really worth making a big deal about? And a look ahead to what's left in the winner's bracket for the rest of the week.
HONOLULU — In front of 200 spectators at a luau inviting teams to the 2009 Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Monday night, UNLV freshman guard Anthony Marshall was put on the spot.
With a hula girl pulling at him to come on stage, Marshall gave in and stepped up.
"They were just calling random people up there and I just so happened to get called up," he said. "I didn't want to go up there, but she just kind of picked me up, so I felt like I had to go up and dance. It was pretty embarrassing."
On Tuesday night, he had to step up again, this time after sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield was called for his second personal foul less than a minute into the Rebels' opening-round contest against SMU.
Again, he stepped up, leading UNLV (11-1) to a 67-53 victory over the Mustangs (4-4).
The Rebels advanced in the winner's bracket to face host Hawaii on Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. PST at the Stan Sheriff Center. The Warriors knocked off Charleston in Tuesday's nightcap, 84-71.
"I've been getting plenty of rest," Marshall said. "We got to see some stuff, do a little sightseeing, the hotel beds are feeling pretty good, so I felt pretty good tonight."
In 26 minutes, Marshall delivered with 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block. More importantly, he was the tempo-setter as UNLV raced out to an 18-4 lead within mere minutes and never looked back.
That spurt was keyed by Marshall's lone swat, rejecting a Justin Haynes dunk attempt from behind. On the other end of the floor, after UNLV recovered the loose ball, he notched the assist on a Matt Shaw 3-pointer. It was the first bucket in a 10-0 run.
"Whenever you can have a person come off the bench like Anthony and be as productive as he was today, that's only a plus for us," said junior guard Tre'Von Willis, who also tallied 12 points in a reserve role. "We expect a lot of things out of Anthony, and he's been stepping up to the challenge so far."
Marshall's biggest contribution, however, was dispersed throughout the stat sheet. His energy and example spread throughout his teammates and paced UNLV to what was far and away its most dominant first half of the season.
By the time both teams headed to the locker room for intermission, UNLV had forced 13 turnovers and had scattered SMU so much on the offensive end that the Mustangs had only three assists, were 7-of-30 from the floor and 0-for-8 from long range.
Meanwhile, UNLV had produced 21 points off of those takeaways and was chopping away at SMU's lengthy frontcourt as its confidence grew, scoring 22 points in the paint in the first 20 minutes. The Rebels held a seemingly untouchable 42-19 lead at the break.
Getting in the mix inside was the 6-foot-3 Marshall, who has struggled to find a consistent shooting rhythm this season. He entered the game 22-of-66 from the floor this season, including a 2-of-11 showing in Saturday night's sendoff victory over South Carolina Upstate.
"The first time I got the ball, I shot a jumper and it actually went in, so I felt pretty good," he said jokingly. "So I thought I don't want to just settle for jumpers, let me see how the defense is playing me. So I was able to get to the rim a lot tonight."
Added coach Lon Kruger: "For 30 minutes, we felt really good about what we did. Really sharp, good activity, awareness, forcing turnovers, moving the ball offensively well, a lot of good plays.
"A lot of activity on the defensive end. I think that created a margin to open the ball game. Making shots, of course, combined with the defensive intensity ... That's always a good combination."
So UNLV apparently showed that it in fact can open a game up in dominant fashion after struggling so much in first halves this season.
Instead, it was the final few minutes that showed cause for a bit of concern.
The Rebels led by as many as 28 in the second half but saw that lead shrivel to as few as 12 points in the closing minutes.
SMU may have had only six assists on the night to 21 turnovers, but the Mustangs showed fire late in a blowout and, in the end, forced UNLV into 17 turnovers.
Still, SMU's heart at the end won't be what is remembered from Tuesday night. Instead, it will be the message that UNLV sent.
The Rebels so far have had some time on the beach outside of the team hotel and cut loose with the luau, among other subdued leisure activities.
But the desired end result is well-defined.
"We're just focused," sophomore forward Chace Stanback said. "We came in here and understand that this is a business trip. We have to keep our focus.
"We came in here to win a tournament, not just to go on vacation and sight-see," Marshall said in a moment of seriousness.