Rebels basketball:

Not just whistling: Dixie State takes down UNLV in exhibition opener

Junior Bryce Dejean-Jones left the game after feeling a pop in his hamstring and the Rebels lacked intensity in 71-70 defeat

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Dixie State players celebrate their 71-70 win over UNLV during the Rebels exhibition game Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV vs. Dixie State: 2013 Exhibition

UNLV forward Christian Wood and Dixie State center Zach Robbins chase a ball during the Rebels exhibition game Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center. Launch slideshow »

Bryce Dejean-Jones limping off to the locker room in the first half seemed like the worst loss UNLV would suffer Friday night. Then came the rest of the game.

Dejean-Jones’ health is still the primary concern moving forward but there is plenty more to cringe at following the Rebels’ 71-70 loss to Division II Dixie State at the Thomas & Mack Center. It’s UNLV’s first loss in an exhibition game since 2001 against Global Sports.

“We had a number of things to talk about as a team,” coach Dave Rice said after showing up late to his post-game press conference.

While the loss may have people’s attention tonight it doesn’t count toward UNLV’s record. Last year the Rebels had to go to overtime to defeat the Red Storm by one and went on to win 25 games. The point is there’s no reason to overreact to this one game.

However, the bigger issue is Dejean-Jones, who walked off the court mid-play clinging to his right hamstring. Dejean-Jones then went into the locker room early and watched the second half from the bench.

Click to enlarge photo

UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones holds his hamstring as he heads to the locker room during the Rebels exhibition game against Dixie State Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 at the Thomas & Mack Center.

“I think it’s a pretty significant injury,” Rice said. “He said he felt or heard a pop.”

In nine minutes, Dejean-Jones had 10 points, three rebounds and two assists. The Rebels led by 13 shortly before his exit and the game was tied a few minutes later.

“After Bryce left, our perimeter defense was terrible,” said junior Khem Birch. “Inside too.”

Rice’s biggest complaint about his team’s performance was that poor shooting (34.8 percent for the game) affected the other end of the floor. Once Dejean-Jones was on the bench, the Red Storm started to get into a rhythm and they ended up shooting 50 percent in the second half.

“Mature teams don’t allow the inability to make a shot to affect their intensity on the defensive end,” Rice said.

Newcomer Jelan Kendrick shot 2-of-14, including 1-for-6 behind the three-point line, and guards Deville Smith and Daquan Cook combined to hit 4-of-14. As a team the Rebels attempted 19 3-pointers in the first half, hitting six. That was a constant issue last season and one of the few positives Rice could offer was that those attempts were cut in half after the break.

Dalton Groskreutz led Dixie State with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting. DeQuan Thompson poured in 18 points and Mason Sawyer chipped in 13.

UNLV had the ball, down one, with 0.7 seconds left. The inbounds pass went to Cook, whose shot was blocked by guard Kimball Payne. That set off a celebration rarely seen when the calendar is barely into November.

“They celebrated like they just won a championship,” said UNLV junior Roscoe Smith.

Dixie State, the defending Pacific West champions, didn’t need to apologize to anybody for coming in and notching a big victory, even if it doesn’t really count. The Rebels, though, could probably apologize to each other for getting ahead of themselves.

Rice said after the game he felt Thursday’s practice was “a step back.” He moved the starters to the scout team because he wasn’t happy with intensity and was trying to wake his team up before its debut. Safe to say it didn’t work.

“It’s a process,” Rice said. “It’s going to take time.”

That process could be seriously impeded by Dejean-Jones’ status. Rice said he expected the junior to miss at least the next couple of days and probably more. Dejean-Jones may miss Friday’s game at home against Portland State, when outcomes start to count for real.

Roscoe Smith said the team, obviously, wasn’t happy with the result, but this game’s purpose was to get the Rebels’ legs underneath them against an outside opponent. He’s not concerned with any of UNLV’s apparent problems and actually thinks the humbling could help some players.

“A lot of young guys were on Cloud Nine, thinking college basketball is not that hard,” Roscoe Smith said.

Anyone can beat anyone else on a given night, he added. And anyone, including a team’s alpha dog and all-around best player, can go down with an injury.

That’s a lesson the Rebels learned Friday night. Now they’re hoping they don’t have to find out what life’s like without that guy for an extended period.

NOTES

• According to Rice, the NCAA indicated it would have a formal decision on senior Kevin Olekaibe on Monday. Olekaibe, a Las Vegas native, transferred from Fresno State back to Las Vegas to be close to his family after his father entered local hospice care.

The NCAA can either allow Olekaibe’s waiver, making him immediately eligible for this season, or it can deny the waiver. If it’s the latter, UNLV will appeal the decision.

Olekaibe had to watch Friday’s game because he’s not yet eligible. Freshman Kendall Smith also wasn’t able to play because he sprained an ankle earlier in the day. He’s not expected to miss much time.

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

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