Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 | 10:35 p.m.
When you play a team as overmatched as San Jose State, there’s always a chance the game ends up close simply because the better team knows it’s so much better that they relax too much or maybe even tense up.
On Wednesday night in the Events Center, UNLV made sure there was no chance of that happening. Junior Deville Smith hit two 3-pointers in the first two minutes and the Rebels (14-7, 5-3) led wire-to-wire in a 70-46 blowout at San Jose State (6-15, 0-9).
The Spartans are known to take, and occasionally make, a ton of 3-pointers, so UNLV’s plan was to live up to its own stat as one of the best 3-point defenses in the country. San Jose State made only one 3-pointer in the first half and finished 3-of-21 for the game.
“We were running them off the three-point line,” said junior Roscoe Smith, who finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. “If they made a couple, they’d definitely catch fire.”
Deville Smith and Bryce Dejean-Jones led the Rebels with 13 points each while Khem Birch registered nine points, four rebounds and six blocks. He had nearly that many rejections taken away for goal tending, a sign of just how often the Spartans were able to get into the lane. Part of that was by design.
“Our philosophy was to contest their threes and try to make them beat us with tough twos,” said UNLV coach Dave Rice. “Now, we didn’t want them to get all the way to the basket.”
It didn’t matter much because the Spartans were rarely able to convert once they got there. SJSU shot 28.8 percent from the floor. Freshman Rashad Muhammad, a Bishop Gorman grad, finished with 13 points but like the rest of his teammates he was off from deep. Muhammad made only 1-of-7 attempts beyond the arc.
UNLV led by 10 at halftime and the game never got any closer than that. The Rebels were charging forward until the end, with Daquan Cook’s 3-pointer in the final minute giving them the final margin and their largest lead of the game.
“We didn’t let the score at any time affect the way we were playing,” Dejean-Jones said.
The Rebels have won three in a row and four out of their last five. Although the talent level will be vastly different, Rice said he liked the timing of this game leading into Saturday’s home game against Boise State (14-6, 4-3).
“This is a game, with the three-point shooting, that helps prepare us for Boise,” Rice said.
Entering Wednesday’s games, the Broncos had attempted the third-most 3-pointers in the Mountain West and ranked fourth in shooting percentage (37.6).
Just like the Rebels, Boise State has won four of its last five and sits at 5-3 in league play. Their matchup could prove large in the current race for second place.
“We know they shoot a lot of threes, too,” Dejean-Jones said of Boise State. “We’re going to try to do the same thing (defensively) on Saturday.”
Fresno State started hot from 3-point range at the Thomas & Mack Center last weekend, but in the other two of its last three games UNLV held its opponents to a combined 5-for-38. Keeping that percentage against the Broncos will be a bigger challenge but the Rebels certainly head into the game feeling good about themselves.
Much like the seven-game winning streak earlier this season, the fact that this game was never close is the positive sign to which UNLV will cling. The Spartans have yet to win a Mountain West game and it may be a couple more weeks before they’re able to sneak one out.
So just winning the game was expected. But doing it in dominant fashion while executing the game plan is the exact type of business trip the Rebels wanted.