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Willis makes big difference in UNLV’s 78-69 victory

Junior guard’s career-best 25 points and toughness pace win over Southern Illinois


Steve Marcus

UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis drives to the basket past Kevin Dillard, left, during a game against Southern Illinois at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday. Gene Teague watches at right. UNLV beat Southern Illinois 78-69.

UNLV vs. Southern Illinois

UNLV's Anthony Marshall drives past Kendal Brown-Surles during the first half against Southern Illinois at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

Willis leads charge in victory against Southern Illinois

Las Vegas Sun reporters Rob Miech and Ray Brewer dissect the UNLV basketball team's 78-69 victory on Saturday against Southern Illinois. Tre'Von Willis had a career high 25 points and appears to be the Rebels' team leader.

UNLV junior guard Tre'Von Willis doesn’t back down or shy away from bruising, physical and scrappy basketball games, so he relished Saturday night.

Against a Southern Illinois program well known for its tenacity, Willis helped the Rebels weather several uppercuts and then turned the Salukis’ aggressiveness against themselves in UNLV’s 78-69 victory.

Willis set the pace with a career-high 25 points, on 8-of-11 shooting and by sinking all seven of his free throws, and he grabbed 7 rebounds and doled out 4 assists in 26 minutes.

More importantly, he set the tone for the Rebels (3-0) with the edge he brings to Tarkanian Court inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

Willis tries to toughen up his teammates as much as he can in practice. That helped the Rebels repel SIU (2-1) after the Salukis opened the game with an 18-6 run and led to the deciding run in the second half.

“We hung around, hung around and kept fighting,” Willis said. “That’s what I love about this team. We’re some fighters. We definitely fight … I really applaud my teammates on fighting and staying in there against a good club.”

SIU coach Chris Lowery noticed that foul trouble limited Willis to only two minutes in the first half, and only 13 minutes for the game, Wednesday against UNR.

“Tre’Von Willis was special,” Lowery said. “He didn’t get to play much against Nevada, and he showed how good he is against us. He attacked the rim, made timely shots and was tough off the bounce.”

Tumbling to the court a few weeks ago with sophomore forward Chace Stanback nearly led to something, but by the end of that practice both Willis and Stanback laughed it off.

Willis has taken plenty of jabs at junior shooter Kendall Wallace, too, in practice. He was just tempering them, Willis said, for when it counts, like Saturday against the Salukis.

“Coach (Lon Kruger) told us coming into the game that they’ll play real tough, hold you and grab you, play real aggressive,” said UNLV junior point guard Derrick Jasper.

“Tre’Von Willis is what we needed. He’s been tough his whole life. I’ve known him his whole life. He’s really tough, and we need that toughness.”

The Salukis built their 18-6 advantage by scoring on six consecutive possessions, the capper coming on a 3-point shot from the left side by junior guard John Freeman.

“SIU is tough, defensively,” Kruger said. “Being up into us early threw us off stride a little. We got more used to it as the game went on. Guys adjusted to it.”

Over the next five minutes, the Rebels adjusted very well and tightened up their own defense.

They rattled off an 18-4 run that was fueled by 3-point shots from Jasper and Wallace on consecutive possessions, sandwiched around two missed free throws by Salukis sophomore forward Anthony Booker.

Willis polished off the explosion with two free throws and a 3-point shot from the left corner for a 24-20 lead with 8 minutes, 52 seconds left.

Most of a crowd of 11,651 roared at the turnaround.

“We took their best shot,” Willis said. “We chipped away and chipped away, and we got after them a little bit like they were disrupting us, trying to get some easy buckets.

“The 3-pointer felt good. The crowd was behind us.”

Still, SIU regrouped to take a 37-34 lead into the half.

“We felt we needed to do something about it,” Willis said of the Rebels at the intermission. “We were not happy about our performance and our energy. We looked at each other and said to get our energy up and get after it.”

The first 10 minutes of the second half resembled a heavyweight prize fight, with UNLV sticking close to SIU and finally taking the lead on a Stanback jumper a bit more than four minutes into it.

It was tied twice, and Willis gave UNLV a 51-48 lead with a 3-pointer from the right side on SIU junior reserve forward Carlton Fay.

The Salukis punched back in a big way by taking a 54-51 lead on back-to-back power dunks by sophomore center Nick Evans.

UNLV junior center Matt Shaw hit a jumper, and when Fay answered with one of his own a sizable portion of the crowd started chanting “S-I-U! S-I-U!”

Willis regained control of the game and the fans with a three-point play – a drive on SIU guard Kevin Dillard in which Willis drove the left lane, collected the foul and sank the free throw – that tied it, 56-56.

“They were kind of playing me as a shooter,” Willis said. “I kept hearing (Lowery) say, ‘Shooter! Shooter.’ I didn’t want to settle for jump shots. I wanted to get into the paint and make plays for others, if they collapsed.

“I got a one-on-one opportunity, and I jabbed (Dillard) right and went left. I protected the ball from the big man on the left side and shielded my body against the guard, and picked up the ‘and-one.’ ”

From the bench two minutes later, Willis marveled over the 3-pointer that Wallace, with John Freeman smothering him, drilled deep from the left corner.

That gave the Rebels the lead, at 59-56, for good for the final 10 minutes.

“He definitely hit a deep ‘three’ with a hand in his face, a fade-away, and it was money,” Willis said. “But Kendall has been big for us. I was cheering, and the whole bench was up getting the crowd back into it.”

UNLV kept turning its own pesky defense into close-range transition baskets, including two in a row from center Darris Santee on feeds from Willis and Oscar Bellfield, for a 65-56 edge.

The Rebels shot 77.3 percent in the second half, and Lowery was particularly irked about the 13 assists UNLV racked up on its 17 second-half baskets.

Some sloppiness and poor free-throw shooting might have made the finish a nervous one for some UNLV fans, but Lowery had seen his Salukis become discombobulated.

UNLV scoring 10 points off inbound passes told Lowery plenty.

“We had some mental breakdowns and errors,” he said. “They did a good job going at some of the kids who are freshmen. Our young guys made mistakes. They game plan. We did, too.

“The difference is, they were able to carry theirs out for a much longer time than we were.”

The other big difference was the veteran Willis.

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  1. Trevon iz our true leader good to see him...take us to the top 25 please...holy cross wer ready

  2. U___N____L____V____U-N-L-V-Go-Fight-Win!

  3. Rob,
    Well, so much for our single digit percentage for turnovers/possessions, but I have to ask, we have 2 games in a row where we've outrebounded our opponent. Did we do that anytime last year? I'm liking the way this team is gelling. Seems to be alot sooner than I expected.

  4. 77.3% in the second half is amazing. PLEASE keep that up!

  5. jersey, absolutely ... that is crazy amazing, but that's what Kruger preaches (not that he's the only coach) ... but rebounds and turnovers, to pressing it at the other end and then making smart decisions, where Willis came in with some of those passes. He was awesome after the game, talking about how he deked and jabbed and used the Salukis' aggressiveness against itself ... was impressive
    yep viz, figured that would rise more than a bit against a tough team like Southern Ill, right? We'll keep track of that, though, over the season and revisit it, because I think the Rebels will remain up there on that list, you know? If we go a few games without talking about it, bring it up and we'll revisit it. It'll be interesting to keep tabs on that throughout the season...

  6. Hey guys, check this out. Probably short lived, but you don't see this every day.

  7. Gotta give Kruger credit for his inbounds plays. We've been consistently good at scoring on inbounds for the past three years.

  8. Matt Shaw needs to start. Massamba might have lost 40 or 400 lbs but he's still a total stiff. Matt Shaw played great defense for us and provided much needed help. Trevon Willis, absolute beast of a game. Too many turnovers overall, especially from Marshall and Hawkins... Fun game to watch and good win!!

  9. Massamba is not a total stiff. He's a smart and tough kid, he sets a devastating pick and he'll dive all-out on the floor for a loose ball anywhere. He makes good passes, can hit free throws and he was tough inside Saturday. He's much tougher and better than a year ago, and he'll continue to get better. He's more than serviceable as one of three centers that Kruger can tap. It looks like that three-headed monster can be counted on for about 20 and 10, and that's solid.
    FastCam ... good stuff man, we'll have Kruger's remarks on that, and the aftermath of SIU, first thing in the morning ... thx

  10. I respectfully disagree, Rob. I don't think Massamba is a player at all. He plays hard and tries hard but he just can't play. I think people like him a lot because of how hard he tries, so people are overlooking how bad he is. The guy is a foul machine. The guy has as many fouls as rebounds for the season!!! Last 2 games= 23 mins played, 8 fouls. Matt Shaw is not in shape yet, but soon he will be starting. He had a great game yesterday. He is the key to our team because we know our guards can play.

  11. letsgorebs, by no means am I saying Brice is a future NBA player..I'm just saying he has been the best guy to catch the passes from the guards. He averages the most ppg among the 3-headed-monster :) And after this season, Brice and Shaw will not play much b/c Lopez and Thomas will be holding down the C spot. Shaw will probably play more on the wing I'm guessing and Brice will play 8-12 min a game in backup. If Shaw keeps puttin up 13 off the bench, he should start. that is if he keeps doing it. Lets see if he does.

  12. Respectfully disagree? You call a kid a stiff? Cmon. I'm not into the name-calling thing at all and I don't think people here need to stoop or take cheap shots at a kid.

  13. massamba looks as if he's still growing into his body..if thats the case a kid that size can completely dominate the lane...i remembrd wen joel anthony first came thru or luu amundson or i remember wen marcus banks wuz the 3rd or 4th best guard in the valley how bout armon gilliam?all ended up goin to the show all these players wer late bloomers even armn hammer was always a stiff player ...intresting to see how this kid iz gonna blossom he jus needs to settle dwn a bit...needs to get in better shape....has so much heart skys the limmit for Mr Massamba...(stil cant beleev j anthony made it to the league as hes about to get the

  14. Anthony and Amundson are fantastic models of what you can achieve by busting your ... uh, you know

  15. Honestly, Massamba's exceeding my expectations this early in the season, as compared to his productivity last year. Our bigs are collectively more than the sum of their parts. If they can play smart, rebound, and create a legitimate presence in the paint each game, what more can we ask of the Three-Headed Monster?

  16. The way this article speaks about Trevon it almost sounds like another former Rebel we had some years back. Trevon's 25 points is somewhat less but, respectful. The Rebels need to come up with an Elburt Miller award for the Rebel that scores the most points in any game each year. Tre leads it so far.