UNLV BASKETBALL:

UNLV pounds D-II Pitt State, 91-52, in opener

Willis has 17 points and Wallace tallies 16 for Rebels

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Justin M. Bowen

UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis and Justin Hawkins high five fans Saturday after defeating Pittsburg State in the season opener for both teams at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels blew it open in the second half with a 91-52 victory.

UNLV-Pittsburg State

UNLV freshman Anthony Marshall looks to score Saturday against Pittsburg State in the season opener for both teams at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Rebels blew it open in the second half with a 91-52 victory. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Breaking down UNLV's first basketball game

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Las Vegas Sun reporters Rob Miech and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's season opening victory against Pittsburg State.

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After attempting a school-record 52 free throws against Pittsburg State, UNLV players joked in their locker room late Saturday night about the last time they played in such a long game.

If they thought it was long, imagine how the Gorillas of Pitt State felt after losing, 91-52, before 14,304 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

The Division-II squad based in Pittsburg, Kan., lost to top-ranked Kansas by 58 points and Kansas State by 36 over the past week.

“When you get beat that bad you don’t think of the referees,” said veteran Pitt State coach Gene Iba, nephew of the late great Henry “Hank” Iba, of the game that featured 80 free throws.

The 68-year-old Iba started coaching in 1964 and will retire at the end of this season.

“It was 21-21 when the bottom fell out,” Iba said. “I thought Lon’s kids played really well. We played three really good Division-I teams in the past week.”

UNLV coach Lon Kruger improved to 5-1 in season openers for the Rebels, and it was his 500th victory as a head coach. Sixty-nine of those came during a rough stretch with the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.

But numbers aren’t very significant to Kruger.

“It’s the first one this year,” he said.

Like they did against Division-II Washburn in their exhibition on Tuesday, the Rebels had a sluggish start Saturday – this time, though, it didn’t take 35 minutes for them to get it together.

It took about 12 1/2 minutes for UNLV to take the lead for good, at 21-19, on two free throws by freshman guard Anthony Marshall.

The Rebels kept a full-court press on that eventually wore down the Gorillas, and a senior walk-on transfer that once played with Kevin Kruger at Arizona State made a mark in his first UNLV game.

Steve “Chopper” Jones canned a 3-pointer from the right side that doubled UNLV’s pad, to 25-19, and started the Rebels running.

A possession later he sank a free throw, and he sliced in for a strong left-handed layin on the left side, squeezing by two Gorillas, for a 41-24 lead near the end of the half.

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” Jones told a television reporter afterward. “It’s my fifth year. When my number’s called … it felt great to be out there.”

Three minutes into the game, Jones was the first Rebel called off the bench by Kruger, but Jones shunned “walk-on” or “sixth man” labels.

“Just call me Chopper,” he said.

Early in the second half, it looked like it would only get tougher for the Gorillas when point guard Andy Smith drifted on offense.

“What the hell are you running?!” Iba barked. Later JaVon McGee zipped a pass to a teammate on the left wing that had moved a moment earlier, and the ball nearly hit Iba.

Even when UNLV held a 72-36 lead with about nine minutes left, and it looked like it might score in triple figures for the third time under Kruger, the Rebels were concentrating on defense.

Matt Shaw, Derrick Jasper, Tre'Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield and Marshall all slapped the floor – to buckle down – as they retreated on defense.

Willis, who had a game-high 17 points and sank all seven of his free-throw attempts, said the Rebels’ strong defensive effort should pay dividends.

UNLV turned 28 Pitt State turnovers into 39 points. Kruger also liked that the Rebels had 19 assists on their 24 baskets.

In addition, the center combination of sophomore Brice Massamba and senior Darris Santee combined for 18 points and 7 rebounds.

For the record, freshman guard Justin Hawkins clinched the record-setting free-throw performance when he launched the 51st and 52nd of the game for the Rebels.

He made both, giving UNLV an 89-47 lead with 3:20 left. Its previous high mark for shots from the line was 51, against Wyoming on March 3, 2001.

“It was pretty crazy,” said junior guard Kendall Wallace.

Wallace extended a hot few weeks of 3-point shooting in practice by drilling four of his five long-range attempts and finishing with 16 points. He had four double-digit scoring games last season.

“Teammates made extra passes, and I was wide open,” Wallace said. “This is definitely a confidence builder. We practiced hard for a few days and played with confidence, that’s really what it came down to.”

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  1. it will be huge to have wallace come off the bench and make a few baskets and put some energy into the starters. he did that tonight. i really liked the way he played. his style of play perfectly suits him to be a 6th man, no doubt. he can come in and hit a few 3s and play hard D while reenergizing the offense and helping the team out of a slump if needed.

    i dont think anybody can argue that. not even Robert.

  2. Just got home from the Pacquiao fight, which was beautiful by the way. But I was rushing to find out what went down tonight at the T&M. Sounds like our boys are tightening things up (at least a little bit).

    I was a little worried after Tuesday's shenanigans. First test of the season later this week against state rival Nevada should tell us more about this team. AND after our football teams performance today at AFA, the basketball season could not have come at a better time

  3. And what a good showing by our freshman guards! I know it was D-II but what we lack down low we certainly have at the guard position.

    I sure felt bad for O when that dunk didn't go down! He split that lane and wound that up beautifully! Hope it doesn't hurt his confidence!

  4. What is the rotation going to be? We have 8 guys who are basically guards/small forwards.

  5. remains to be seen, letsgo ... UNR should offer much more insight about what Kruger wants to do. I highly doubt he'll be going that deep into his roster. The press got to the Gorillas last night. Will that happen to the Pack?
    snyder, that was a super power move by Bellfield. He just didn't get it down. Tre threw one down tonight, so it does appear they want to attack the rim with more vigor this season...

  6. id love for the big men to throw a dunk down ONCE in a while..they just keep layin it up..come on, that'll help out your game and drain the other team's confidence level!

  7. is the unr game on tv anywhere?

  8. you can pay like 8 bucks a month on cbssports.com to watch all rebels games online

  9. we could play a deep rotation if we pressed the whole game and played a more up tempo style offense... don't think it'll happen though.

  10. kruger usualy plays the style that puts us in the best position to win. i think that if that gives us the best chance to win, itll happen.

  11. well, ill be sittin between the benches about 15 rows up. One of the best seats in the house.. i only use the MTN when i have to go on a family trip that was planned months ago over Thanksgiving!! ugh, i had to miss the game 2 years ago. and now i have to go out of town with family for the damn Holy Cross and Louisville game!! im trying to get out of this..like a true fan would do :)

  12. How will the Rebels do against Nevada? The Wolf Pack has increased their tempo, and this year's game will be played at Lawlor.

  13. having trouble reading? this years game will be played at the T&M

  14. The difference between Tuesday night's and Saturday's games was remarkable. The Rebs can't afford to keep coming out of the gate sluggish, but they looked much better against Pittsburg State. They executed their passes, got after it on the defensive end, and were tough on the offensive glass. Plus, our combination of bigs played well. Reno will be a much tougher test, and better barometer for the season. But, for what it was, the Rebels were much improved. Good job, guys!