Rebels basketball:

Hostile environment fuels No. 24 UNLV in 82-51 thrashing of Illinois State

Willis, teammates feed off of taunts, pull away early, improve to 7-0

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David Proeber / AP

UNLV’s Derrick Jasper (5) and Tre’von Willis (33) race to a loose ball ahead of Illinois State’s Tony Lewis (34) during the first half of Wednesday’s game in Normal, Ill.

UNLV vs. Illinois State

UNLV's Oscar Bellfield (0) drives around Illinois State's Kenyon Smith during Wednesday's game in Normal, Ill. Launch slideshow »

NORMAL, Ill. — Tre'Von Willis said he didn’t hear anything from the student section at Illinois State on Wednesday night.

His coy grin while saying so gave away the truth.

In UNLV's first true road test of the 2010-11 season, the Rebels won in a landslide, slamming the Redbirds 82-51 after pulling away for good midway through the first half.

It was also a glimpse at what life will be like for the team in hostile road environments moving forward this season, as Willis was taunted relentlessly for a bulk of the game by the ISU students, who chanted and screamed insults regarding the Rebels senior guard’s off-season legal troubles.

What was proven, though, was that opposing fans doing so will likely be fanning flames.

Not only did Willis clearly feed off of the vitriol being slung at him, but the entire team did, too.

“Tre is Tre, and we know how Tre is going to play, how he’s going to react to certain things,” sophomore guard Justin Hawkins said. “All of those negative things going through Tre are just going to feed him positively. Us, as a team, we feed off of Tre, feed off of each other, and you see that on the court.”

Added junior forward Chace Stanback: “Yeah, we heard a few of them. He likes to feed off of everything, any type of energy he can get, no matter whether it’s negative or positive. We like him for that.”

Willis didn’t have a particularly outstanding night compared to his teammates but, again, was simply part of the machine that has been this group so far in the 2010-11 season.

ISU (5-2) jumped out to an early 6-2 lead behind two buckets inside from sophomore leading scorer Jackie Carmichael. The Redbirds did a good job of avoiding UNLV’s backcourt pressure defense by relying on lengthy outlet passes to get its offense sped up instead of running mostly half-court sets.

That didn’t work for long, though, as UNLV (7-0) woke up offensively out of the game’s first full break.

Stanback, the Rebels’ top offensive threat this season, adjusted his game to make himself more effective closer to the basket against the Redbirds’ inexperienced post players. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half.

Junior guard Oscar Bellfield gave UNLV its first lead at 9-8 with 14:11 left in the first half, and the Rebels never looked back. That was the start of a 9-0 run that also included scores by Willis and senior guard Derrick Jasper.

UNLV pushed ahead by 17 points at the half then opened the second stanza up on a 13-3 run that forced ISU to ultimately relent on the defensive end. The game’s final 15 minutes resembled a pick-up game, as the outcome was already determined and ISU let its younger benchwarmers mop up the garbage minutes.

“The guys, in a pretty methodical way, were pretty consistent from start to finish,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “We didn’t quite have the trap opportunities that we did in other situations, which isn’t totally surprising on the road, but these guys consistently stayed after it, built it gradually throughout, it seemed like.”

In a game that could be seen by outsiders as a trap — coming off of an emotional tournament victory, long travel, cold weather, non-televised — the Rebels found early motivation before even suiting up.

On Tuesday, when heading into the Thomas & Mack Center locker room before leaving for the trip, the players were greeted with the all-black uniforms that they had been lobbying years for.

“The last couple of years, even before I came here and would just come and watch games and be in the locker room, they talked about wanting black uniforms, and we finally got them,” sophomore guard Anthony Marshall said. “If we would have lost tonight, we probably wouldn’t have worn them again, so we’re happy to get the win with them so we can continue to wear them.”

As for the in-game motivation, Willis did a good job of avoiding making eye contact with the students across from the UNLV bench who were so desperately trying to get into his head and force miscues.

There was one instance, late in the first half, when an ISU turnover occurred just in front of said section. Willis happened to be right in front of them, and before turning to head back up the court, he looked over and clapped his hands several times.

Still, after the game, he remained mum on what was hurled at him and the couple of signs being held up for him to see.

“Hear what? I don’t even know what they were saying. I didn’t see nothing,” he said. “Our job is to play basketball. I don’t know about nothing else not associated with basketball.

“We played well, we came in here and did what we expected to do.”

What those fans were treated to was yet another UNLV victory that was just as dominant on paper as it looked from the stands.

Marshall led the Rebels with 15 points, doing all of his scoring in the second half. Stanback and Jasper each scored 12, with the two combining for 13 rebounds. Bellfield tallied 11, hitting three of the team’s five 3-pointers.

Willis played 14 of his 23 minutes before halftime, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and three assists across from no turnovers. After a few minutes into the second half, the ISU students had turned their attention to the refs and away from him.

As a team, UNLV out-rebounded ISU 44-30, forced 16 turnovers and held the Redbirds to just 36.4 percent shooting. It marked the fifth time in seven games in which a Rebels opponent has shot below 40 percent from the floor.

“Coach talked to us before the game, told us just to come out and do what we’ve done the past five games,” said Hawkins, who had eight points and five boards. “Us having so much experience coming back this year, we knew how to handle it coming into the game. I just felt like as a team, we started off slow the first couple of minutes but knew how to pick it up right away, and that’s what we did.”

Breathing room on the schedule doesn’t greet the Rebels just yet, either.

After a quick turnaround gave them basically 36 hours at home before heading east, they bused two hours to Chicago after the game and will fly back to Las Vegas on Thursday morning. Then, after about another 24 hours, the Rebels head to Reno for Saturday night’s showdown with struggling in-state rival UNR.

Surely, the atmosphere there won’t be much friendlier.

Willis and the Rebels don’t seem too concerned.

“This is where teams grow — through the adversity, through the travel, miles away, being away from your comfort zones,” he said. “So far, we’re 1-0 (on the road). The tournament’s behind us. We said we want to come back home 2-0.”

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  1. I wish that sports leagues would crackdown on over zealous fans shouting personal insults at players... The games are viewed by fans as a form of entertainment, and I can't think of another form of entertainment in which the venue permits verbal attacks on the entertainers. I know it's "part of the game" but with the 24/7 sports news machine digging more and more into player's personal lives the fans are gaining more and more ammo.. For example, the ESPN commentators at the 76 classic mentioned Tre's off the court issues at least once in every single game when it really is no longer relevant.. It's just become somewhat of a black eye on sports as a whole.

    I miss the days when the media and the public celebrated sports and the athletes that played them, as opposed to trying to destroy them.

  2. Poor Tre. He's such a victim.

  3. Noticed by the box score that Karam Mashour played 10 minutes and hit a 3. Any word of how he looked?

    Looks like he'll get a bit of playing time during these blowouts. Hopefully, he'll get a bunch of minutes as we smoke UNR...

  4. They can yell and taunt as much as they want, we WON by 30+!!!!!

  5. Karam still looked a little on the confused side. He played most of his minutes after the Rebels had a 20 point lead. He hit that three at the towards the end of the game, wide open, but was nothing but net.

    He is obviously still adjusting to the college game, and would have had far less than his 10 minute would this game had been close.

  6. AmLowLife ... He looked OK, a bit shaky at first, then as soon as he did something positive grew visibly more confident. That was also the case in his first game against Se. La. He had a nice steal, then got fouled going in for a layup and hit two free throws, had a strong defensive board and hit the three. Quality experience for him, but he still doesn't look quite ready enough for regular rotation minutes. Still a long way for him to go, mostly on the defensive end.

  7. @ stepdenise, +1!

    Let them say what they want, our guys seemed to feed off of it and blew them out.

    At least it wasn't as bad as the Auburn game where the PA announcer played "take the money and run," and "son of a preacher man." HAHA

  8. I thought what the DJ at the Auburn/Bama game was hilarious and I can't believe he was fired for that.

    As far as the taunting from the fans, it is just part of the game and in some ways is part of the "home court advantage." This didn't happen as much and athletes were celebrated much more by the media and fans in the past simply because there wasn't the bulk of information available back then that there is now. There are more outlets for information, which leads to more information getting out, information getting published and more opinions being voiced and heard.

    Tre knew what was waiting for him the first time he hit the road with the team. Believe me, the folks in Normal, Illinois are going to seem very tame compared to what he'll hear in Reno, San Diego, Provo, etc... Luckily, Tre is the type of person who feeds off of that negativity. Its going to happen at every road game this season. The fans here in Vegas do the same thing with anything regarding visiting players too.

  9. Unfortunately for Tre he put himself in this situation and he is going to have to deal with it. So far it seems like he is doing fine. Tre has always been an intense competitor on both ends of the floor. From what I have noticed with or without the taunts he plays with a chip on his shoulder. I am guessing the taunts will only make him more determined. Bring it on. Runnin' Rebels!

  10. Disagree that Karam looked confused. Tentative, maybe, confused no. He stood in the corner the first 3 minutes, but when he started cutting and moving without the ball, I tell you he surprises with his quickness, very Jasper-like, combining good size and quickness. And the one shot attempt was, as my colorful Italian uncle who loved UNLV basketball used to say "a ting a beauty!" nothing but net. This kid is gonna be good, I hope he stays wearing the scarlet and grey for all 4

  11. Another impressive win. Not as much in terms of the quality of opponent but how they won the game. Anytime a road team can jump out the way the Rebs did and keep their foot on the gas peddle throughout against a team that should at least qualify for the NIT is impressive. Hopefully the rebounding margin is a new trend and not an aberration.

    As for Tre, while I wouldn't attend a game make comments such as those reported, I am afraid I can't feel but so sorry for the youngman. He did bring this on himself.

  12. I love the black uniforms!!!

  13. This Rebels team look great and it finally seems like the "Rebels of Old" have returned.....an early high National Ranking and early quality wins over Wisconsin and Va Tech have put the Rebels back on course for a fantastic season....Go Running Rebels!!......

  14. gumby, good point. Tre knew that this was going to be part of his season. Thought he did a good job the first time around of handling it. Outside of the one time he clapped at the students, he never even acknowledged what was going on. Gonna be interesting to see how he handles it down the road. I'd expect UNR fans to be ready for him, plus San Diego State and New Mexico.

  15. liljoe, you're probably right. I'd say tentative on offense, but I do still think he's a bit confused on defense. Still, not nearly as confused as he was 3 weeks ago. It's coming along for him.

  16. I am one of the folks who thinks that KM should have redshirted, but understand his reasons. I think once the language barrier is broken down more and he gets used to his teammates, he will be a good late game sub.

  17. Could not agree with you more Louis. Like all freshman the speed and intensity of the game always is a big adjustment. The reason I believed he should redshirt was not that he could not hang but that where do his minutes come from? We are so loaded on the perimeter and the wing and Derrick Jasper has played so well so far, you got to have him on the floor. But as Coach said, not a good idea to force someone to redshirt. They have to be on board with the idea. Hopefully Karam can continue to work hard in practice and get a few meaningful minutes here and there. I think we all fear that if be becomes disenchanted he might take off but I do not see anyone that I think he should be playing in front of. It is a nice problem to have. Runnin' Rebels!

  18. The chants are going to happen. And they happen here too. Do you remember Psyco Sarah? Or how about the Reno game last year when every time Armon Johnson touched the ball the chant was "Where's your gun at!"
    I would rather have the chants than all of the piped in music the NBA does anyday.

  19. Excellent performance for our first true road game.

    Happened to run into the team at Midway airport in Chicago today. Nice surprise for me, living in Indiana and not getting to see the team on TV much. Not much rest before the trip up to Reno, but we didn't seem to have any trouble with the 3 games in 4 days last weekend. Our team's conditioning seems stellar and it is nice to have the athletes to use our pressure D effectively and to actually play a bit of run-n-gun again.

    Still very early in the season, but I like our #2 RPI rating, #7 Pomeroy rating, and of course, the #23/24 actual rankings. Looking forward to smoking Reno and Boise State, which would put us at 9-0 going into Louisville--can't wait for that one.

    Go Rebels!

  20. UNLV jumped to #18 in the polls today! ESPN's Pat Forde even has them ranked highest at #11, and others between 14-22.

  21. New polls don't come out until Monday.

  22. UNLV is #18 in ESPN's college b-ball power rankings--only 3 spots behind SDSU and 5 spots ahead of BYU. As Ryan noted, official polls (AP and ESPN/USA Today) come out on Monday. Regardless of the poll (official, unofficial, computer rankings, etc.), we are getting nods in all of them. Keep up the good work Rebs, and lets slaughter the wolfpack Friday night! Go Rebels!

  23. of course tre is going to get yelled at... just like the rebel fans gave billy white the business when he got in trouble for stealing Ryan's TV. :)

  24. Ya, sorry about that, meant ESPN Analyst ratings, not AP.

  25. @rebel_in_indiana - The Wolfpack slaughter is on Saturday night.

  26. icy1007 - my bad. Don't know why I thought it was Friday. That did seem like a quick turnaround from a Wednesday night road game. Regardless, let's hope we give them a thorough thrashing. Go Rebs!