UNLV basketball:

Rebels have plenty to learn from in 62-60 victory at UTEP

Defensive inconsistency and missed free throws both played a role in UNLV’s 15-point lead disappearing before it pulled out a win

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UNLV guard Katin Reinhardt defends Texas-El Paso guard Konner Tucker during a game Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in El Paso, Texas.

UNLV narrowly beats UTEP

KSNV reports on UNLV's mens basketball narrowly beating UTEP on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2012.

UNLV vs. UTEP

UNLV's Katin Reinhardt lays up a shot past Texas-El Paso's Jacques Streeter during a game Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in El Paso, Texas. Launch slideshow »

EL PASO, Texas — The team UNLV wants to be would take a 15-point lead and increase it to 20, or at least maintain it at about a dozen. On Monday night in the Don Haskins Center, the current version of the Rebels saw that lead dwindle to two, a margin so precarious they had to hold their breath while UTEP’s Konner Tucker lofted a potential game-winning 3-point attempt in the final seconds.

As they always seem to do in these situations, those seconds felt like a lifetime to the Rebels, who exhaled as the shot missed and they survived with a 62-60 victory.

There’s little time to digest this one before No. 21 UNLV (9-1) gets on the court again Wednesday night at home against Northern Iowa (6-4). However, the gap between the team coach Dave Rice wants to see and the one he saw here must get smaller if UNLV is going to have a legit chance to win its next road game, on Dec. 29 at No. 23 North Carolina.

“We’ve got to learn, on both ends of the floor, to play with a lead,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Typically this season we’ve gotten a lead and lost our focus on the offensive end. … Tonight, that was much more our defensive focus than other games. Proud of the win, but we need to get better.”

The list of things to work on includes finding a rotation in go-to situations, getting comfortable playing defense for long stretches and it also wouldn’t hurt to make some more free throws.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was the Rebels’ biggest second-half catalyst and scored a team-high 12 points, missed a pair of free throws with 15.2 seconds left. The team combined to hit just 10-for-18 at the free-throw line.

Dejean-Jones made up for it a bit at the other end by knocking the ball out of bounds with four seconds left and grabbing the rebound off Tucker’s miss as the buzzer sounded. However, just like UNLV could have made it easier on itself by maintaining that double-digit lead, Dejean-Jones could have essentially put the game away at the free-throw line.

“That would have iced the game, but we came together at the end and got a stop,” Dejean-Jones said.

Senior Anthony Marshall hit a couple of 3-pointers and scored 11 points while freshmen Anthony Bennett and Katin Reinhardt each finished with 10 points.

It figured that UTEP (3-5) would try to slow the game down. Not only did UNLV have a distinct athletic advantage, especially in the open court, but also it’s the same strategy Miners coach Tim Floyd used in an 11-point loss at the Mack last year.

The Rebels’ offense, free throws not withstanding, was basically consistent throughout the game. They shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and finished making 44.9 percent of their overall shots and 47.1 percent — 8-for-17 — behind the three-point line.

The defense didn’t handle the pace nearly as well. As the game wore on UTEP got better and better, even if some of it came on shots the Miners had no business making. Tucker, who was playing his first career UTEP game following a transfer and a broken hand, had a couple of those. They were off-balanced 3s with a hand in his face, and they first pulled UTEP within single digits then later cut the deficit to six.

Miners center John Bohannon had another one. Near the end of the shot clock the junior found himself wide open at the top of the key and drained a 3-pointer, the first make in his eight career attempts.

Sure, that’s a shot the Rebels are OK with giving up, but they would still rather force him to shoot it with a hand in his face.

“We lost concentration on the defensive end,” Rice said. “We need to continue to guard for entire possessions. Obviously they threw a couple of shots in but that’s what competitive teams do.”

The game, which was never pretty in the first place, got particularly ugly in the second half, Dejean-Jones said. And he would know because he had a hand in it.

With about 10 minutes remaining and UNLV up by 10, Dejean-Jones was whistled for a dead ball technical foul. The immediate result was a four-point possession as C.J. Cooper missed the first free throw and then hit the second before Tucker hit one of his off-kilter 3s as the shot clock was about to expire.

The result for the rest of the game, players said, was that the refs called the game more tightly. UTEP took advantage of this, hitting 8-of-9 at the free-throw line down the stretch starting with Cooper’s make.

“That altercation kind of changed everything around,” Marshall said. “… They stepped up and made their free throws where we went to the other end and didn’t convert ours."

The game stopped and started quite a bit, and throughout that Rice attempted to find the right group of five guys without much luck. Part of the rotation concerns are kind of out of his hands — see: Mike Moser's injury and the eligibility of Khem Birch, who made his debut with four points and three rebounds in 14 minutes.

“It’s a difficult thing to find the right combinations just with the way we’ve added and subtracted guys,” Rice said.

However, finding the right group who can build on a lead rather than watch it whither away is one of the biggest problems the coaching staff must solve going forward.

That’s one of many questions the Rebels face on a quick turnaround. Above all else, they’re happy to learn these things about themselves in a victory, no matter how narrow, rather than a loss.

Taylor Bern can be reached at 948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Taylor on Twitter at twitter.com/taylorbern.

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  1. Jones is getting better. BUT! He still makes just horrendous plays at the worse time. He'd hit a gret shot then come down and foul 30 ft from basket.....he has to learn to tone it down. Or at least when to.

  2. Last year, I would agree that the Rebels almost blew it, but not this particular game. UTEP hit not one, not two, but three lucky 3-pointers as the shot clock was expiring. The guy who hasn't played a game hits a 30-footer with Justin Hawkins right in his face and then hits another one over both Bennett and Reinhardt. Then the other guy hits the first one of his ENTIRE CAREER! I mean, that's 9 points right there that were complete prayers. Maybe a team gets one of those a game, but 3 of them? Yes the Rebels could have finished the game stronger, but it was a complete fluke that UTEP had a chance to win at the end. Given the exact same situation all over again, chances are none of those 3-pointers go in and the Rebels win by double digits. Thank God he missed the one at the end that was actually a much easier shot than the ones he hit earlier in the game!

    What is it with the Rebels facing players that have never made shots like that in their entire careers and never did it again after facing the Rebels. Remember Ben Brust of Wisconsin going 7 for 7 on 3-pointers last year against the Rebels and then going 2 for 11 the next game? Remember Hank Thorns making everything he threw in the sky last year at TCU, including a fade away 28 footer as the shot clock was expiring in overtime? I think he went something like 3 for 15 the next game. If it was bad defense, that's one thing, but these are absolute fluke shots and performances that only seem to happen against the Rebels. At least the Rebels pulled this one out!

  3. Rice needs to grow a pair and grab jones by the throat and sit him. He takes horrible shots and his poor d and free throws killed us at the end. What does he provide that others don't ? How about Bennett playing D and lest play Bennett and Birch together.

  4. *let's

  5. There is a ton of talent on this team but you can see that they still are not a good team. I think that is a reflection of Rice's coaching abilities. Rice still has a lot to learn when it comes to coaching. He hasn't really fixed any of the problems that last years team suffered from last season. At times the team can look great and then it's like the wheels fall off the bus towards the end of the game and the Rebels blow big leads and have no idea how to recover. I don't know if Rice just doesn't know what plays to call or if he just doesn't know how to motivate his players down the stretch. Hopefully he and the team get it figured out soon. Even though the team is 9-1 they haven't really played up to their potential all year long.

  6. I agree with the comments above on our "coach". Dave Rice needs to be a leader and a coach. Watching him during the time outs at the end of the game was very telling as he appeared indecisive and lost. No pressure on UTEP bringing the ball up wih 14 seconds left in the game? Two layups and a wide open 3 in last minute+. I have to say that is very weak coaching. If your guys cant help on the man efense then zone at the end an make them shoot the 3, o pressure fullcourt and play man.

    One thing players like JHawk have showed in the past on this team is an ability to step up the pressure in critical moments, yet our coach has them sit back and Dave essentially appears totaly lost at the end of the game. This doesn't happen if you challenge you players to defend wther it's a zone or man.

    It's year 2 and I haven't seen any improvement in Rice's coaching ability to teach man defense, or to create fast break points, or pressure the ball full court. His laid back style appears to be more of uncertainy than that of a leader. All the talk of the running Rebels has slowedto a fast walk. Just once I wouldlike to see 5 mutes of full court press. We make it too easy on teams to bring the ball up and set screens on us. there is no switching or man help. Weak coaching with great recruiting is 6 of one half a dozn of another. Time to create an idenity coach.

    When we had an opportunity to blow them out Rice started calling plays to free up 3 point shots instead of attcking the rim. That is getting a little old. This is why this team "looks" bad as if they don't know what kind of team they are, half court, full court, pressing, zone, or just one on one basketball. I'll go with one on one because I see no team play. No great defense and no great offense. We are winning games on talen alone while watching teams like Butler win with superior coaching and team play.

  7. Hang on now just a minute folks. I too did not like having a game that we seemed to be in complete control of almost slip away at the end. A very clean look at a 3 that could have sent us home grumbling, "not again!"
    I know we played a lot of guys everyone saw time. We got a look at how other teams will play Bennett with Moser out. As soon as Bennett touched ball double teams came immediately. We played well until the end, somehow Coach has got to find the right combo in situation moments. We've escaped two games on the last possession that could have gone either way.
    This team has got a lot of talent you can see that. By conference time I hope Coach has his starters he wants ready to take the floor followed by fresh legged subs that continue to pressure and then the closers who put the final nail in the coffin.
    I'll keep the faith. C'mon Rebs!

  8. It is very true Rice has to grow some, he was lost and was badly out coached last night, he has to by now found a rotation that work. Marshal has to be a point guard and not the hero, he will cost a close game because he wants to be the man. They need to let D Cook get some minutes at the point or we are in big trouble, Rice is not been a good coach for UNLV and being timid and scared is going to hurt us very soon, UNC will kill us on national tv if things dont change..

  9. I must have been watching a different game. I saw excellent defense, with the exception of the last four or five minutes (and the TV commentators saw it as well). I saw a Rebel team shoot 50%. I saw them make big plays and important shots when necessary. I saw a UTEP team shoot way above their heads with hit three-pointers under excellent pressure defense and during the final few seconds of the shot clock. I saw poor coaching decisions, yes, but by UTEP, one of which was letting 15 seconds run off the game clock on what could have been UNLV's last possession, before finally fouling. I saw a mostly young UNLV team with a lot of player changes and rotation to deal with this season pull out a road win. That's something they could not do very often last year.

  10. I agree that Coach Rice and the staff need to improve as does the team in general. Games like this do not give anyone a good feeling, and you can certainly argue that we have yet to put an entire game together. To me Coach Rice is caught in between two styles. If you want to be a run and gun team you have to force the tempo on the defensive end by using a trapping full court press. We certainly have the athleticism and the bodies to do this. If you create lots more possesions, some of the quick shots do not hurt you as much. However, if you are only going to sit back and play half court man to man with what has been so far token ball pressure, then you have to be more of a half court offensive team, value the ball and take better, high percentage shots. So far it seems like we are trying to be a half court defensive team, and a full court offensive team with quick shots and out of control drives. Precisely why we give up big leads. We do not force the other team to guard us, and we sit back and let them execute and get what they want. This team definitely is as talented 1-11 as we have had here since the Tark days but so far I have not seen much improvement from the NAU game to now. If this continues teams like Wyoming, CSU, Boise St, UNM, and SDSU are going to expose us quickly. Sure hope we have a better game against UNI.

  11. It would have been nice to hear the referee's actual explanation of the technical foul. From what I saw on video, the kid from UTEP had the retaliation shove and then was flexing on Bennett with a closed fist.

  12. Dejean-Jones was called for the technical; he came over from another part of the court and pushed the UTEP player away from Bennett. It was showed in replay.

  13. JPR: "Excellent defense"? Normally I agree with you on most things--not just sports--but the Rebs don't play excellent D. Bennett appears to have no desire to play defense at all and isn't a particularly good rebounder considering his physical attributes.

    Birch looked totally lost out there and was pathetic at defense. We'll give Birch a pass considering the circumstances but I can see why he didn't get much playing time at Pitt. I was hoping for a Joel Anthony-type of player, at least, but I don't think we're going to see that.

    The rest of the team played D off and on but still leaves the wide open 3 and can't guard pick and rolls to save their life.

    Personally, I think Rice has a lot to do with the problems. I just don't see much structure and organization which comes from the coach.

  14. They're going to get smoked at North Carolina. That's if they beat Northern Iowa, which always has a good team.

    That win, the 10-1 mark and the ranking should keep the North Carolina number down. Beep, beep, beep....back the truck up.

  15. Personally I loved the return of the Runnin Rebels under Rice's tenure. Two years ago, everyone complain how Lon Kruger used to grind out games with a boring brand of basketball. It was winning basketball, but it wasn't championship basketball. The way Lon coached certainly didn't showcase the talent of the players.

    Dave has introduced transition basketball. The team stretches the floor, moves the ball, and gets up and down at full speed. This type of basketball showcases talented players. The only problem is that Let's Run and Running As One needs to be turned into Let's Walk and Walking As One. This is especially true when you are up by 15 points with 8 mins to go in the 2nd half. The Rebels are still pressing the ball like it is an 8 point lead. Shots are being taken too soon, they are settling for 3 balls when taking time off the clock and working the ball down low is the thing to do. Maybe that is Dave's issue. His inability to get his team to slow down.

  16. Reality check people. The Rebels are currently starting 2 freshmen, 1 sophomore, and 2 seniors. You take a guy like Moser out of the lineup and you're certainly going to have problems with flow in the game. That's what coach Rice is trying to figure out right now, who is going to step up to fill the void left by arguably one of the Rebels best players. It's not really important where this team is at right now, but where they're at come March.

  17. As a fan it's easy to blame the coach, but no one who actually knows basketball seems to be saying anything but great things about the job Rice has done so far. I realize we'll always have the minority fan base that thinks the Rebels should win every game by 50 points and gets upset when the Assist to Turnover ratio is anything below 2:1, but that's just the nature of sports. Grown men living vicariously through college athletes is sad, but it's reality.

    What I saw was a young team on the road last night, both literally and in the way they played. Back on national TV, Bryce Jones reverted to chucking the ball again. Bennett looked less comfortable on both ends last night, whether it was because of the different rotation or something else I don't know. Reinhardt is still lost between being a point guard and a shooting guard, but he's playing hard and getting better defensively. Birch looked like he hadn't played in game speed for a year. Marshall didn't fill up the box score but he played efficiently and created a lot of open shots that were missed. Lopez really stepped up in his limited minutes and provided some scoring and surprisingly solid defense. Really, just an all around team effort.

    As someone commented earlier, if UNLV makes a few more free throws, and UTEP doesn't make so many uncharacteristic three pointers then it's an easy double digit win, so I don't think there's anything to panic about. Even if the Rebels lose at UNC, if they can take care of business at home they will enter conference play at 13-2. Pretty solid.

  18. I think we need an 8 player rotation, not ten. Bennett is one of the best players in the country and he's being shuttled in and out of the line-up every 5 minutes. Lopez and Goodman should be on the bench unless there's foul trouble. These players need consistent substitution patterns to build chemistry.

  19. The one thing I will agree Rice lacks in terms of game management is Standards. I dont see any. He has got to set some on the defensive end & never, ever, never compromise them. He should make it clear that the price of "freedom" & "shoot with confidence" on our end MUST BE PAID by playing high effort & team defense on their end AT ALL TIMES. No Exceptions.

    Taking a quick & ill advised shot is deemed ok now...as is not helping on defense. One or both of those has got to be a sit down on the bench right now (!) crime. Its not the fact that they cut our 10pt lead down in the last 5 mins...its how they did it....with lay ups!

    The team played hard. The effort is there. Our half court D was better in terms of ball pressure & physicality...but there were a ton of mental lapses or late/non existent switches. The time to get his team's attention & set a non negotiable standard on the defensive end was 10 games ago. I'd love to see him hook Bennett for not helping on D & make him understand there will be no taking any possessions off, either mentally or physically, on that end...Ever.

    As for Jones, I too think he is too much of a black hole but then I look at the box score & he led the team in assists with 5...which is nice number for a two guard. Then again, he probably should have had 10 assists. lol

  20. (Okay, perhaps "excellent defense" was a bit overstated. How about, "solid defense, with equal flashes of excellence and weakness.")

  21. Just sayin', UNLV is seventh in the nation in 3-point field goal defense and 20th in the nation in overall field goal defense percentage. Defense could always be better, but I'd say its good and progressing. Also, Bennett was quickly pulled last night after not blocking out and not giving any effort to get a rebound on a play, so apparently there are some "standards". Another good thing is that Marshall is getting better and better at his new role. I think he's evolving into his own type of "point guard". He'll never be a John Stockton type but he's getting better at what he's doing. Here's my Monday morning quarterback question for Coach Rice, though. On the last possession, when UTEP had to foul, why didn't they put the ball in Reinhardt's hands? Dude is 19/20 so far from the stripe (95%). Game over if Katin is on the line.

  22. You know what's funny? Coach Rice is a lot smarter than about 98% of the people in the world being a Rhode Scholar canidate and he's sees these guys everyday in practice. I'm thinking he might have a little better idea of thingS going on than all you want to be coaches. Give them a chance!! They're 9 and 1 play with what could be considered 5 freshmen. The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.
    The only teams to win national or league championships in December are Duke and Kentucky.