Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 | 11:06 p.m.
One guy did it with dunks, the other with drawn charges. Either way, freshman Derrick Jones Jr. and junior Ben Carter got the same result: fans on their feet showing some of the same second-half life that UNLV used to pull away for an 80-62 victory Saturday night against Prairie View A&M.
“They appreciate winning plays,” Carter said. “A guy takes a charge, dives on a ball, sprints up to block a shot — you know, plays that win ballgames. Fans love that; fans love energy plays and it got our team going.”
Similar to Tuesday against Division II Chaminade, the Rebels (6-1) looked groggy throughout the first half against the overmatched Panthers (0-6). They were again able to shake that off just fine, though UNLV coach Dave Rice was less tolerant this time around.
The Chaminade game tipped off a little more than 12 hours after a deflating two-point loss to UCLA, and with No. 13 Indiana waiting the following day the sluggish first half against the Silverswords was more understandable. Tonight it ticked him off, as the Panthers tied the game at halftime thanks largely to UNLV’s laissez faire defense that allowed a 17-0 deficit in fast-break points.
“Tonight was inexcusable the way we played in the first half,” Rice said. “We can talk about a lot of things; I just said they’re all excuses. We’re not going to make excuses.”
Said Carter, “It was what we needed. Coach Rice came in there fired up, as he should be.”
Jones started after the break for senior guard Ike Nwamu, who was dealing with foul trouble and the illness that’s getting passed around the team even more effectively than their offensive ball movement, which was rather good. It took the freshman forward less than two minutes into the half to add another highlight to his in-game dunk reel and the Rebels were off from there.
“The offense is always going to come,” Jones said. “We just harp on the defensive end.”
UNLV trailed much of the first half and not for a second of the second half, leading by as much as 20. Carter, who played 31 minutes on a sprained ankle, waved many in the crowd of 10,858 to their feet midway through the half after one of his three drawn charges, which are the types of plays Carter adds to his own in-game highlight reel.
Not everybody can touch the moon like Jones, but many of UNLV’s top guys were productive outside of turnovers, with Pat McCaw registering 18 points, seven assists, five steals and five rebounds while Dwayne Morgan had six points, four rebounds, an assist and a block in 22 minutes.
The Rebels are getting a lot more practice without Stephen Zimmerman Jr. than they would care for at this point. The freshman forward had 10 points and six rebounds in nine minutes before exiting with a sprained ankle. At the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Zimmerman sat out against Chaminade and played only 15 minutes against Indiana due to a combination of foul trouble and illness.
That same illness kept Morgan out of Friday’s practice, limited Nwamu in Saturday's game and kept senior guard Jerome Seagears both out of the practice and Saturday's game. If there’s a time for half the team to battle the same bug this is probably it, though, because the Rebels now have five days off before Friday’s game against Oregon at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Rebels were supposed to travel to Wichita State on Wednesday, but they got that game moved back a week and added this one to the schedule in part to ease the transition back from the Maui Invitational. It turned out to be even more fortuitous as the Rebels try to shake off illness and adjust to life without sophomore forward Goodluck Okonoboh, who transferred out of the program Friday.
Rice was asked about reports that Okonoboh attempted to leave Maui after Monday’s UCLA game and said that he wasn’t aware of that.
“I just know that he was at every team meeting, he was at every bus on time and I’m not aware of any of that,” Rice said, adding, “He and I certainly didn’t have that discussion, and no one around him had that discussion with me or any of our staff.”
Carter, who will play against Oregon for the first time after spending his first two seasons with the Ducks, said he was upset when he learned Okonoboh was leaving, saying he was like a brother. At the same time, Carter understands the situation better than most.
“Transfers happen, unfortunately. It’s part of college basketball,” Carter said. “I told Tyrell (Green), it’s your turn.”
Green, who transferred in this year from Hill junior college, nearly redshirted this season. Now he’s line to get some minutes from the end of the bench, and he took advantage of his first extended run with nine points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
This game was good for him to get out a little more, plus sophomore Jordan Cornish snapped his 0-for-15 start behind the three-point line with a make, though he was only 1-of-5 for the game.
Overall, UNLV got what it needed from this game, and it now starts the toughest five-game stretch on the schedule: Oregon at MGM Grand, at No. 20 Wichita State, at UC Riverside, Arizona State and at No. 11 Arizona.
It’s time for a brief rest, because the Rebels are going to need it.