Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
During a halftime ceremony Tuesday night honoring UNLV’s championship basketball season of 1989-90, former star guard Greg Anthony thanked fans for “great memories” and “wonderful moments.”
The exhibition game against Washburn that sandwiched those title-team festivities didn’t exactly produce many moments that fans will consider wonderful or memories that were great.
The Rebels left the Thomas & Mack Center with a 62-52 victory after the Division-II Ichabods went into a deep freeze with 4 minutes, 44 seconds remaining.
Washburn guard William McNeill sank a 3-point shot from the left corner, on UNLV freshman Justin Hawkins, to give the Ichabods a 52-51 lead.
“I mean, they’re scared,” McNeill said of what he sensed in the Rebels. “They have everything to lose, (possibly) losing to a D-II school like Syracuse did. They didn’t want to be on ESPN, losing to a D-II school.”
But that’s when Washburn’s hopes of a Le Moyne-like upset – the D-II Dolphins upended Syracuse last week in an exhibition – evaporated when it didn’t score again.
“We just ran out of gas,” said McNeill, a 6-foot sophomore from Alexandria, La. “We had some mental mistakes, and I turned it over quite a few times. We just had them on their heels the whole game. We really competed.
“A D-II school holding a D-I team to 34 percent shooting? That’s good defense. It can happen. It’s not impossible. D-II can beat D-I. They put on their shorts the way we put on our shorts.”
UNLV only hit 34.4 percent of its shot attempts, and had 18 turnovers to 10 assists. But Washburn shot 33.3 percent, with 24 turnovers and only 4 assists.
McNeill turned it over five times, and junior forward De’Andre Washington littered Jerry Tarkanian Court with nine miscues.
UNLV coach Lon Kruger, who begins his sixth season in Las Vegas on Saturday in an opener against Pittsburg State, said Washburn controlled the pace and tempo of the exhibition.
“We weren’t very crisp in many areas,” Kruger said. “We have to do a lot better in many areas.”
Befitting the sloppy and sluggish game, there were four consecutive scoreless possessions after McNeill’s 3-pointer.
On the fifth, Hawkins missed a close shot. But sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield tipped it in to give UNLV a 53-52 advantage. It was the 10th and final lead change in a game that was tied seven times.
Rebels sophomore forward Chace Stanback slipped in a soft hook in the left post on his team’s next play, and he followed that with a three-point play that enabled a crowd of 10,238 to begin to rest easy.
That it came in the game’s final minute, with 58 seconds left, showed how difficult the evening was for UNLV.
Wink Adams, Rene Rougeau and Joe Darger have moved on, and Stanback and point guard Derrick Jasper are back on the court after sitting out a year as transfers.
“They played real tough,” Jasper said of the Ichabods. “They moved the ball real well and they forced us to really guard, to get out in the passing lanes, and they back cut. They played really well.”
Washburn was tenacious on the boards, too. With 30 seconds left in the first half, the Ichabods played volleyball under the rim and finally put in a close shot after six misses.
UNLV led, 28-24, at the half.
“I’ve seen him worse,” Stanback said of Kruger’s halftime chat.
“No one was excited with how we came out,” Bellfield said. “We just really knew we had to pick it up in order to win this game. That’s not what we want.”
Stanback saved UNLV from some national mockery, like Syracuse no doubt weathered for nearly a week, with a strong second-half performance in his competitive debut at the Mack.
He went 0-for-6 from the field in the first half and admitted he felt jittery. He hadn’t played in a game in more than 18 months, since he was with UCLA when the Bruins went to the Final Four in 2008.
But he tallied all of his game-best 15 points in 9 minutes of the second half, in which he went 6-fot-8 from the field and also yanked down 6 rebounds.
During a stretch of more than four minutes, Stanback single-handedly kept the Rebels close to the Ichabods with seven points – a dunk, a 3-pointer and an inside shot after a strong rebound of Darris Santee's missed free throw.
That cut UNLV’s deficit from 37-30 to 39-37.
“Anytime you step on the court you’ll have butterflies,” Stanback said. “For me, it was a little more than usual. I sat out last year and haven’t played in a year and a half. I had a lot of butterflies.
“But I got them out in the first half.”
Stanback badly twisted his left ankle three days before practice officially started, and he didn’t return until Oct. 31.
After the exhibition, which he didn’t start, he said his ankle is at about 85 percent.
“Whenever coach thinks I should start, I will start,” Stanback said.
Massamba (6 points, 4 rebounds) outplayed Santee (2 points, no boards).
One of those two figures to sit when Kruger decides to start Stanback, whose contributions Tuesday night helped the Rebels avoid some embarrassing explanations.
“Being our first game, newcomers and even veterans were not on the same page,” Bellfield said. “Better we get it out of the way now rather than later. It happened. Everyone witnessed it.
“We have to know within ourselves that that’s not what we want.”
Stanback wasn’t even the first Rebel off the bench against Washburn. Less than four minutes into it, Kruger put Kendall Wallace and senior walk-on Steve “Chopper” Jones in for Willis and Jasper. Wallace went 1-for-3 from 3-point range, with two rebounds, a steal and a turnover in 16 minutes. Jones, in his first action as a Rebel, missed his only shot, hauled in two rebounds and had two assists and a turnover in 16 minutes … Bellfield went 0-for-5 from long range … The Rebels made only 18 of 30 free throws … Kruger said he began talking Monday with Carlos Lopez, the freshman from nearby Findlay College Prep, about redshirting this season. “It would be a good opportunity for him,” Kruger said, “if we can afford to do that.” Kruger might need the extra support inside. Lopez dropped 30 pounds after catching a stomach virus at a tournament in France in July and has regularly struggled in practice.