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October 26, 2021

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REBELS BASKETBALL:

UNLV claws its way to 63-59 victory over short-handed K-State

Bellfield’s late heroics help Rebels flip 11th-ranked Wildcats, head into holiday break at 11-2

UNLV vs. Kansas State

Charlie Riedel / AP

UNLV coach Lon Kruger talks to his players during the first half of Tuesday’s game against Kansas State in Kansas City, Mo.

UNLV vs. Kansas State

Kansas State guard Will Spradling, right, tries to steal the ball from UNLV guard Derrick Jasper during the first half of Tuesday's game in Kansas City, Mo. Launch slideshow »

UNLV vs. Kansas State

UNLV vs. Kansas State

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A few months down the road, when much of the nation is hemming and hawing over resumés for potential NCAA tournament teams, there's a good chance that some will throw an asterisk next to UNLV's 63-59 victory over No. 11 Kansas State.

One side will argue that K-State was — at the last second — without senior stalwarts Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly, while the other will fire back by saying that the "neutral" site was anything but that.

Either way, nothing came easy for the Rebels, who headed off of the floor at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday night all smiles.

They overcame poor outside shooting and a major deficit on the boards with a smattering of crucial scores at the rim and stellar second half defense, winning ugly to head into the season's first extended break with an 11-2 record.

"We prepared like they were gonna play, and we knew they were gonna fight without them," UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis said when asked about the last-second personnel news. "We had to try to play our best ball, we didn't feel like we did that, but we came away with the win."

K-State put out a press release less than an hour before the game regarding Pullen and Kelly, announcing that they were both deemed ineligible after committing a secondary NCAA violation. The incident involved receiving impermissible benefits from a local department store in Manhattan, Kan.

UNLV coach Lon Kruger told his team of K-State being without its leading scorer and top interior threat just before it took the floor in front of 18,422 fans.

"Most importantly, we mentally didn't want to approach it any different," Kruger said.

The Rebels didn't show any signs of taking the Wildcats lightly, while K-State appeared to use the suspensions as fuel.

UNLV held a 24-17 lead following a Derrick Jasper 3-point play with 7:50 to go in the first half, but it would be the last field goal for the Rebels before the intermission. Meanwhile, the K-State reserves who there thrust into more prominent roles stepped up.

Leading the way was Nick Russell, who entered the game averaging just 10.3 minutes and 3.9 points per game. The sophomore scored 11 in the first half, including a 35-foot heave as the buzzer sounded to give the Wildcats a 34-32 lead and the crowd some buzz to carry over into the second stanza.

UNLV trailed by as many as six points early in the second, and took the lead back with another and-one sequence from Jasper with 12:51 left. It was toward the end of a 14-2 Rebels run that was pushed along by strong perimeter defense and attacking the rim on the other end. UNLV's outside shooting was cold all night, but Jasper, Willis and Anthony Marshall all found ways to score tough buckets against K-State's front line as the game wore on.

K-State got back to within a point with eight minutes to go but couldn't get over the hump, as Marshall responded with a lay-up while getting fouled just before a TV timeout. After that, the Cats' best opportunity to close the gap was in the final minutes, as 6-foot-8 Jamar Samuels strode toward the basket all by himself off of an outlet pass from an Oscar Bellfield 3-point miss.

The lanky 6-foot-8 forward let up just as he got to the rim to leap off of both feet for a nonchalant lay-in with K-State down by three. But Bellfield had hustled back off of his miss, slid in front of Samuels, elevated and wiped the shot the other way.

It turned out to be the ultimate tipping point, as he would ice the game two minutes later with what was only the team's second 3-pointer of the night with 1:22 remaining.

"Usually, the point guard has to get back, so that's what I was doing," Bellfield said humbly of his defensive heroics. "He had a foot ahead of me, but I put some effort into it and tried not to give up a bucket. I thought he was about to go up for a dunk, but I just gave it my all."

Bellfield was just 2-of-10 from the floor but scored 11 points. Willis tallied a game-high 16, while Marshall scored seven of his 11 after the break.

What UNLV lacked in efficiency outside, going just 2-of-13 from deep, it made up for at the free throw line.

K-State came in as a 55 percent free throw shooting team and held form in a game that saw 47 foul calls, going 14-of-26. Meanwhile, UNLV was an efficient 19-of-24, with Willis and Bellfield combining to go 10-of-10.

Chace Stanback, UNLV's leading scorer on the season, stayed mired in his recent shooting slump, going just 2-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-3 from long distance. He did have three rebounds, two assists and two steals, but the 6-foot-8 junior's shot looked off for much of the night.

UNLV was out-rebounded 43-26 but made up for it with opportunistic defense. Without Pullen to help keep things steady on offense, K-State's young lineup fumbled its way to 23 turnovers across from only six assists. Russell, who replaced Pullen in the starting lineup, committed a team-high five giveaways.

The postgame fireworks then turned out to be just as entertaining as the game itself, as the turnovers were one of a few topics that fiery K-State coach Frank Martin snapped about during an intense, hostile and, at times, awkward six-minute press conference.

After it was announced that he would not address questions about Pullen and Kelly, who were not on the bench with their team, he barked at a reporter who tried to beat around the bush a little. That set the tone for the rest of his time on the podium.

Moments earlier, while Kruger was in the same room, Martin could be heard through the walls in the adjacent locker room wildly screaming at his team.

In essence, that sequence in the depths of the building summed up where both teams currently stand.

Pullen will miss K-State's next two games, while the length of Kelly's absence has yet to be determined. At 9-3, the Wildcats, who entered the season ranked No. 3 in the nation, are in limbo and struggling mightily both on and off the court to live up to some of the highest expectations ever put on the program.

UNLV, which was far from pretty in several areas on Tuesday, appeared simply relieved to have escaped with a win that should still hold some significant weight on an NCAA tourney resumé.

"We can't worry about who's on the court," Willis said. "That's up to them,"

Notes

• UNLV heads back to Las Vegas on Wednesday morning, and from there, the players will be freed to spend the holidays with their families. The team doesn't return to practice until Sunday afternoon and won't play again until Dec. 30, when it hosts Central Michigan at the Thomas & Mack Center.

• Both Kruger and Martin after the game expressed interest in continuing the series between the schools, with the possibility out there that future meetings could move to the teams' home courts.

• UNLV's coaching staff was contacted before the game by UCLA transfer Matt Carlino, who visited campus last week on an official visit. He told them that he will be heading to BYU. The 6-foot-2 combo guard, who will be eligible as a freshman at the conclusion of the fall 2011 semester, visited BYU, UNLV and Butler before making his decision.

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