Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 | 8:50 p.m.
People looking for big answers in today’s game at the Thomas & Mack Center may have walked away thinking they found them. Looks can be deceiving.
What UNLV (3-3) accomplished in dispatching UT Martin (2-8) by 30 points was akin to washing a bad taste out of its mouth. A couple swishes back and forth and the Rebels spit the Skyhawks back out to feel refreshed, but any cavities they felt in the first five games still linger right where they’ve always been.
However, make no mistake: the Rebels needed this game. Everyone from coach Dave Rice down to the players sounded lost after blowing last Tuesday’s game to Illinois. They had the victory and then lost it in the final minutes, dropping the program below .500 for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
“This was a good and very necessary win for us,” Rice said after the 85-55 victory.
After a sluggish start that saw the game tied with less than eight minutes to go in the first half, the Rebels turned on the jets and won easily some easy steals and dominant rebounding (46-32) against the smaller Skyhawks. The key to that figure, as he has been all season, was junior forward Roscoe Smith. He finished with his fourth double-double of the season, registering 13 points and 19 rebounds.
“We tried to dominate at both ends,” Roscoe Smith said.
Bryce Dejean-Jones scored a game-high 16 points with seven assists to one turnover. UNLV’s other double-digit scorers were Khem Birch (13), Jelan Kendrick (11) and Kevin Olekaibe (11), who hit the team’s first two shots of the game.
Once UNLV shook off that initial rust it was smooth sailing. The Rebels led by 12 at halftime and blew that up to a 25-point lead before the 16-minute mark of the second half.
UT Martin has two non-Division I victories; earlier this season it lost by 18 at Wyoming. The Skyhawks shot 35.2 percent from the field and only 30.8 percent behind the three-point line.
An added benefit to UNLV running away with the game was Rice being able to put some bench players in for bigger minutes. Former starters Kendrick and Deville Smith each played at least 13 minutes, freshman Christian Wood was out there for 14 and Daquan Cook played a good distributor role at point guard with no shot attempts and three assists in 12 minutes.
Those are all good things, but what they amount to is more evidence that UNLV was a vastly better team that played vastly better than its opponent. That’s a positive, obviously, but it accomplishes little outside of those 40 minutes. The Rebels finally hit the road this weekend to play at No. 4 Arizona, which defeated Duke on a neutral court earlier this week.
“We’re definitely not intimidated by them at all,” Roscoe Smith said. “Shockingly, they’re probably intimidated by us.”
Unlikely. Arizona (7-0) may be close to a 20-point favorite at home Saturday and it boasts one of the best freshmen in the country in forward Aaron Gordon.
UNLV’s going to struggle to stay close in that game, and if it succeeds in that then the sign of growth from previous losses would be to make better in-game decisions and plays. The Rebels weren’t able to work on any of that today because this was the type of game they were supposed to dominate. And they did.
That’s obviously positive and it’s what UNLV needed to feel better about itself, but this game never had the opportunity for the Rebels to learn much from it. This was about getting that taste out of their mouth and moving on to the next one.