Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016 | 7:35 p.m.
There was no reliving of past glory days on Saturday, when No. 5 Duke came to town to meet UNLV for the first time in 25 years. There was no revenge for the Rebels’ 1991 Final Four loss. No rivalry was rekindled. There was just a vastly superior Duke team blowing out UNLV, 94-45, and showing the present-day Rebels just how far they still have to go before they’ll be ready for the national stage again.
Duke compiled a season’s worth of highlights in 40 minutes, and junior guard Grayson Allen will be able to put together a Naismith Player of the Year reel based solely off this game after scoring 34 spectacular points against a battery of UNLV defenders who had no answers for his combination of speed, quickness, athleticism and skill.
Allen spent his 29 minutes sadistically pulling the wings off the Rebels’ defense. He tomahawk dunked over UNLV forward Dwayne Morgan, made 6-of-9 shots from 3-point range and brought the house down with a two-handed putback dunk in the second half. When he finally exited after scoring eight straight points late in the game, the Duke faithful chanted his name as if the game were being played in Durham, N.C.
UNLV was overmatched in every way. While Duke made 58.7 percent of its shots (37-of-63), the Rebels made just 16 field goals (16-of-54, 29.6 percent) while committing 21 turnovers.
Three other Duke players joined Allen in double figures, as sophomore guard Luke Kennard scored 16, freshman Jayson Tatum scored 13 and senior Amile Jefferson totaled 10. For the game, the Blue Devils averaged an incredible 1.306 points per possession.
“Their shooting percentage was so high because they got a lot of easy buckets,” coach Marvin Menzies said. “We gave up too many clear looks. And then, just like Arizona State, you give up clear ones and all of a sudden they’re banking in threes.”
The only UNLV player to make it to double figures was sophomore guard Jalen Poyser, who fought through a rocky start to finish with 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting (4-of-8 3FGs). Poyser committed a team-high five turnovers, however, and the Rebels’ ball-handling was such an issue that Menzies had to turn to little-used freshman walk-on Larry Bush to play point guard for a season-high 12 minutes.
It’s hard to imagine how the day could have gone any worse for UNLV. In the first college basketball game at the T-Mobile Arena, in front of a sellout crowd of 19,107, Duke simply dismantled the Rebels from tipoff to the final buzzer. The Blue Devils showed why they have the No. 1 offense in college basketball as they opened the game with an 8-0 run, then added separate 10-0 and 7-0 runs to build a 42-26 lead at the half.
Duke opened the second half just as hot, using a 7-0 spurt to pretty much put the game away. Another 18-0 run a few minutes later transformed it from a run-of-the-mill blowout to the kind of historic rout that will stick in locals’ memories for years.
It was 73-39 with nine minutes left when Allen put the finishing touches on his masterpiece, drilling back-to-back 3-pointers and hammering home his outrageous putback dunk.
Duke’s dominance didn’t leave room for many silver linings. An obviously dejected Poyser said after the game that UNLV will have to work harder in practice before the results will show up in games.
“We have to turn it up a notch, obviously,” Poyser said. “Really key in on boxing out, rebounding, taking care of the ball, being able to play with pressure. We’re just going to attack it in practice, get better, and come Wednesday we’re going to try to perform better than we did today.”
The schedule doesn’t necessarily get easier for the Rebels from here. After Wednesday’s home game against Incarnate Word, they’ve got to travel to Portland to take on No. 24 Oregon on Dec. 17. After that, there are home games against Southern Illinois (Dec. 19) and No. 3 Kansas (Dec. 22) before Mountain West play begins the following week.
As Saturday’s beating showed, the Rebels aren’t ready to run with the big boys just yet. But Menzies believes his team will get there.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s not going to deter us from being really, really good at the end of this year,” Menzies said. “I have no doubt and no lack of confidence that we’ll be a competitive team as time goes on, for sure.”
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