Quirky lineup and determined point guard led UNLV to victory at SDSU

Anthony Marshall scored a team-high and Dave Rice pulled out a small lineup that paid big dividends in an 82-75 win


Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

UNLV guard Justin Hawkins talks to teammate Anthony Marshall after Marshall was called for a foul against San Diego State Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at Viejas Arena in San Diego. UNLV upset SDSU 82-75.

UNLV vs. SDSU: Jan. 16, 2013

UNLV guard Anthony Marshall yells during their game against San Diego State Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at Viejas Arena in San Diego. UNLV upset SDSU 82-75. Launch slideshow »

SAN DIEGO — Stories about toughness don’t usually include asking to be taken out of the game multiple times. Of course, stories about the Rebels in Viejas Arena don’t usually include a UNLV victory.

This one’s got both.

UNLV point guard Anthony Marshall looked to the bench multiple times in the final eight minutes, desperate for a breather. He got two of them that totaled 40 seconds. When he was on the court Marshall scored five of his team-high 20 points in that final stretch and grabbed four rebounds, including the final one that sealed an 82-75 victory. It was the first time the seniors, including Marshall, had won here.

“I know the last couple of games (at Viejas), it’s come down to the wire,” Marshall said. “We just weren’t mentally tough enough to get those wins. To get one here means a lot.”

One of the biggest questions facing the Rebels (15-3, 2-1) has been whether they could go into a hostile environment and make game-winning plays in close games. They already had the Cal game, but nothing against a team near the caliber of the 15th-ranked Aztecs (14-3, 2-1). That this victory came on the same type of plays that sunk UNLV at New Mexico last week only makes it more satisfying.

Trailing by three with just more than two minutes left, SDSU grabbed two offensive rebounds on one possession. Giving up those plays, UNLV coach Dave Rice has said, is the most frustrating thing for him to watch.

The Rebels survived that because Justin Hawkins went up for an aggressive defensive rebound under the 2-minute mark. Hawkins then flipped the play on the Aztecs, corralling Bryce Dejean-Jones’ missed 3-point attempt and putting it right back in for a five-point lead.

“It says everything we want to know about toughness,” Rice said.

It may seem odd that Hawkins was so near the basket on back-to-back possessions. It seems that way because it is, as Rice employed an extremely small lineup in the final minutes that deployed the 6-foot-3 senior guard as the team’s power forward.

“They already know I’m going to do whatever it takes to win,” Hawkins said. “So when he said, ‘You’ve got to go to the 4’ I’m just going to go to the 4 and I’m going to do everything in my power.”

The logic goes like this: Rice was tired of the Aztecs’ perimeter players like Jamaal Franklin (27 points) and Findlay Prep grad Winston Shepard (18 points) so easily getting into the lane. The duo combined for 22 free-throw attempts, which was more than UNLV had as a team, because they kept slipping past the Rebels’ first line of defense and drawing contact. Rice countered this by sitting Mike Moser for the final 7:06 and Anthony Bennett for the last 3:43.

The lineup in the final minutes was Marshall, Katin Reinhardt, Dejean-Jones, Hawkins and Khem Birch. It was a strange configuration that may have worked as much for its surprise as anything else. Much like a surprising Quintrell Thomas-Savon Goodman first-half pairing because of others’ foul trouble, the Aztecs probably didn’t have this final lineup in the scouting report.

“We were having a hard time getting San Diego State stopped the whole game,” Rice said. “I chose to match them and our guys stepped up on the defensive end.”

Shepard cut the lead back to three right after Hawkins’ putback and it seemed clear Marshall would be the one to come up with a response. Against Air Force on Saturday, Marshall took just one shot and dished out 12 assists. That felt more like a response to criticism than a complete change of style, and that bore itself out against San Diego State.

In the second half, Marshall didn’t make any assists but he did snap UNLV’s six-minute drought without a field goal by making back-to-back shots. The toll from the physicality of the game shown on his face as he looked to the bench for a respite that came for mere seconds. You could tell that this was going to be another situation where Marshall put the game in his hands.

This isn’t a perfect story, though. What it is is an example of progress in small doses.

Marshall’s runner with 30 seconds left clanged off the backward. That could have led to a potential game-tying shot at the other end and in a lot of UNLV games that’s what would happen. What did happen was Birch, well positioned just in front of the basket, grabbed the offensive rebound and made the easy layup for a five-point lead that sent a surprising number of people for the exits.

“I didn’t even know it was coming down to me,” Birch said. “I just got the rebound, used my left hand and ran down the court to play defense.”

That was Birch’s second offensive rebound and putback in the final 2:25 and it was effectively the game-winner, with only a Franklin turnover and a pair of Dejean-Jones free throws remaining to send the Rebels home victorious.

The reason Rice left Birch on the floor as the lone big man at the end speaks to the level of his performance. Birch finished with 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks, four of those coming in the second half. That happens to be when Franklin started to struggle from the floor, too, as he went 3-for-12 in the final 20 minutes.

“(Franklin) likes to use his right hand to go to the basket, that’s what Coach told me before the game,” Birch said. “Every time he drove to the basket I left my man and came over from the weak side to alternate or block it.”

The Rebels had a plan and it worked pretty well, getting them a 10-point second-half lead. When things started getting away from them, Rice made changes that looked strange yet led to a win. Most importantly, the Rebels made game-winning plays, the kind that have so often escaped their grasp at Viejas and road arenas throughout the Mountain West.

Now that the Aztecs are officially staying put in the league, UNLV will have countless chances to come back to this arena and write a similar story. This doesn’t guarantee anything for the Rebels, especially with a trip to Colorado State looming Saturday.

What it does is show that UNLV can win a close game on the road in this league. Not that it will every time, just that it can. And that’s good enough for tonight.

“I think this is a good start for us,” Marshall said.

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  1. There. Is no substitute for hard work. Still, there were those plays when UNLV was letting San Diego State back in -school yard tactics like the guy who has the ball shoots and everyone else watches. Tonight they actually woke up for bits and had some intensity. Lets hope it was not a fluke and they toast Colorado St.

    UNLV has now demonstrated to this fan that they have the ability to win important games. Now it gets down to coaching and mental prep.

  2. Tonight may be the 1st time that Coach Rice obviously out-coached Coach Fisher. Trusting his bench players sent a message to them and other teams that he's not afraid to use them. Everyone contributed tonight but going to the basket, head fakes, ball fakes and Marshall's will to win is what did it. We need Marshall to drive to the basket, score points and get fouled. Playing PG shouldn't mean abandoning all that you do best. Great win Rebels! I'm very proud of you all right down to Q's big outlet pass, Daquan's dagger of a 3 and Katin logging zero turnovers. Little things that win big games. RunAsOne.

  3. yup yup, way to go REBS!!!!

  4. Two very nice wins in a row. Not necessarily for who they beat....but how. Starting with AF, the Rebels just might be figuring out that if they value the possession, share the ball, and make the other team work defensively, they will win more close games.

    With the exception of that 5 min 2nd half stretch when they reverted to their patented "1 pass or no pass force a shot" offense....led by BDJ... that squandered a 10pt lead, the Rebels played smart & efficient basketball.

    Khem was an absolute BEAST on the defensive end & a major force on the glass at both ends. Marshall was a Man. AB did his thing & was effective. BDJ fought his rear end off. Rice going small for defensive purposes was a sweet move. Totally took away their drive & kick game. Quality minutes from Daquan cannot be overlooked either. If he doesnt play those minutes AM fouls out or runs out of gas. JHawk with "another" game winning play. Great TEAM win.

    When the Rebels run their stuff and do it Rice's way & dont get drunk on "freedom"...they're damn good. If they can keep the discipline they've showed the last two games in terms of valuing the possession...they can beat anybody, anywhere.

  5. Comment removed by moderator. Inappropriate

  6. Finally, a big road win! Congrats Rebels! I'm happy that Rice tried something DIFFERENT by putting a smaller lineup in to throw off SDSU....that's what I've been waiting for! Great win guys, let's keep it up.

  7. I will be the first to admit that I did not think we had much of a chance winning this game. I am thrilled to be wrong. What I thought was so important was Coach using the entire bench. I know that normally the rotation shrinks once you hit conference play but I think the exact opposite after watching last night. Our depth is a huge advantage. One of the reasons we made tough plays down the stretch is our guys were fresher. Allowing Daquan, Savon, and Quintrell to get minutes early helped our core guys late. All three did a great job. These conference games mean so much and take so much energy. Not only physically but emotionally as well. I thought Coach Rice did a fantastic job and I sure hope he continues to use 10-11 guys in spurts to keep the guys fresh for the last 10 minutes. Absolutley awesome! Scoring 82 at Viejas. Runnin' Rebels!

  8. "Marshall's runner with 30 seconds left clanged off the backward." I think you meant "backboard"... but like the Rebels, he's only human. I forgive you Taylor.

  9. @Sinatra711 What's this? No call for Dave Rice to be fired? The sky is NOT falling?!

    Great win. Marshall put the team on his back during a scoring drought and willed the team to this win. Good to see him get back to doing what he does best: drive the lane and get to the line.

    I still think this next game @ Colorado State will tell us if this win was a fluke or if the Rebels are finally getting their stuff together and can make a run in the tournament this year.

    Remember that Air Force team we barely beat in OT? CSU blew them out by 39 POINTS yesterday.

    Go Rebels.

  10. I think Bryce is going to be a great player, but man does someone need to sit down and analyze tape with the kid. His turnovers and poor shot selection almost single handedly derailed what has been some of the best basketball played in the program for years. Love seeing the seniors on this team step up and be leaders. Is Anthony Bennett a beast? Heck yes! But he doesn't have the floor smarts that Hawkins does. It never shocks me when brains out work talent, especially in college sports. Great road win and time to stop dwelling on it because CSU at Fort Collins is no slouch. They decimated AF last night.

  11. @1944Canucks (Christopher Riley) - That's why I think the Rebels will be even scarier next season. They will have more talent than they do this season, but they will be more experienced at the same time. I don't think they will struggle against veteran, less talented teams like Air Force.

    This was a great road win for the Rebels. I like how Dave Rice only played Moser, Bennett, and Birch for a few minutes together in each half because it caused defensive problems. I also liked how the Rebels went small in the second half. It really threw off San Diego State.

  12. Let's see- they pounded the ball down low- and WON. Much fewer dingbat threes thrown up (Jones still has no clue at times) and Rice actually did COACH a great game. Sitting Bennett and Moser at the end was the right thing to do, win or lose. Now let's see what they do against CSU who are going to be tough to beat at home.

    Reinhardt still can't shoot, but he is playing a little better each game in terms of staying within himself- now Jones needs to do the same thing. And after watching Bennett and Moser get abused on the defensive end I can't believe either one of these guys is leaving after this year- they have SO much more improvement to do.

  13. It seems that when Moser and Bennett get 2 fouls they start playing the "Matador Defense" trying not to pick-up a 3rd foul. Bennett did the same thing against UTEP and it almost cost us the game. Defensively, Bennett is clearly not ready for the Pros yet.

    Congrats to Dave Rice for a great coaching job!

  14. Patticus- neither is Moser. He is going to play the 3 in the pros so he better learn to guard guys his size and a tad smaller.

  15. Just the beginning fellas.....attitude adjustment was needed liked what I saw. Birch keep swatting balls coming your way, Moser love the energy, Marshall it's your team now!
    Gongrats to all the backups that kept the lead QT and Co. just a good win for the head!
    Lets keep it up!
    Go Rebs

  16. Funny how Katin was amazing at shooting in high school, but all the weight lifting has messed his shot up big time. Nonetheless, they proved they can close out a game, on the road, in an environment they rarely win. Huge win for them now splitting 2-2 or going 3-1 in their gauntlet would put them in the drivers position. This game against CSU is that much bigger

  17. Well, this silenced the people saying that Rice needed to be fired!

    Lets beat Colorado State.....

    Ouch for Wyoming though, against Fresno....

  18. When Birch, Moser, and Bennett left the game with 2 fouls apiece at the 7:27 mark (approximately) in the 1st half, and the scored tied 31-31, this could have been a turning point in the game. However QT, Goodman, and even Daquan Cook putting in some valuable PT to rest AM a little and save Bennett and (more importantly) Birch from further foul trouble, did an admirable job holding the fort until the 2nd half. I remember thinking, "I would just be happy to be down single digits at the end of the half". Not only were we not down, but up 6 at the half spoke volumes of their contributions.

    How bout the commentators (Doug Gotlieb, and Steve Lappas) dissing the SDSU crowd (minus the Show) at the beginning of the 2nd half, saying it was nothing compared to The Pit? That must have stung the SDSU faithful a little.

  19. This didn't even look like the same team that almost lost to Air Force. Rice's loverboy Katin actually played like he's supposed to, he must have gotten a good butt chewin by the reast of the team. Rice finally coached a game by not coaching and letting the boys play thier game like the Running Rebels that they claim to be. Tadaaaa , took a while but I hope Rice got the message.

  20. Great win, they are showing real improvement, now if Bennett would just play some defense....

  21. I'm surprised people are criticizing Katin Reinhardt's shooting abilities. From what I've seen he's the best shooter on the team. His FG% is lower because of his shot selection more so than his shooting ability.

  22. @UNLV-123 - You definitely make a good point. He makes around half of his open shots (I don't have any official stats on that), and he can put the ball on the floor and get to the free throw line.

    He's still learning to play within himself. I think he has the ability to shoot at least 45% from the field and 40% from three point range.

    Finally, I think he plays too many minutes for the role he has. He's only being asked to make open shots, and they're not really running any plays for him.

  23. "His FG% is lower because of his shot selection more so than his shooting ability."........

    Now that has got to be the quote of the year so far....ummm, this isn't shooting hoops in your backyard, many shots will be contested and the player has to make a decision on whether or not to shoot. If he's making bad decisions (shot selection), then he needs to be benched. Those missed shots are hurting our team. He's shooting 35.9% for season and is 33.7% on 3PT shots...!!

    If he's the best "open shooter" we have, then play him limited minutes in situations when we need that, not 20+ minutes where he's becoming a liability. Rice needs to put him in check.