Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016 | 9:30 p.m.
Leading up to Wednesday's home game against Incarnate Word, UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said he wasn't sure how his team would bounce back from a 49-point loss to Duke just days earlier. As it turned out, it was a delayed reaction, as the Rebels started slow but came to life in the second half to pull away for a somewhat cathartic 92-64 win.
Senior forward Tyrell Green sparked the second-half surge by scoring 15 of his team-high 21 points after the break. He made 8-of-14 shots from the field and also pulled down 10 rebounds to notch his first career double-double.
The Rebels played without injured frontcourt stalwarts Christian Jones (ankle) and Dwayne Morgan (shoulder), but the freshman fill-ins more than held their own. Cheickna Dembele got his first career start and produced a career-high 13 points and seven rebounds, while first-year high flyer Troy Baxter pitched in with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
UNLV took a 38-30 lead into halftime thanks to a Jovan Mooring one-man run that saw the junior guard score the Rebels' final eight points. Green took over from there, drilling 5-of-9 shots in the second half as UNLV outscored Incarnate Word 54-34 over the final 20 minutes.
It took a while, but the Rebels found their groove.
"We knew that we had to really lock in," Green said. "This was a gut-check game for us ... Everyone was focused and ready to go. We need that same mindset and everyone locked in for Saturday."
Saturday will see UNLV take on a ranked team for the second time in seven days, as they face No. 23 Oregon at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. Menzies said he doesn't expect either Jones or Morgan to be able to suit up for that game, so the Rebels will likely turn to Dembele as their starting center again. The 6-foot-11 Mali native played well against the smaller Incarnate Word front line, converting a pair of impressive and-1 finishes and making 5-of-9 shots from the field before fouling out in 20 minutes.
Not bad for a freshman who had just 33 total minutes of playing time entering the game.
"He played great," Green said. "We're going to need that from him, obviously with [Jones] out. So he's going to be a big part of this team. He knows that he's going to have to go down there and finish. He's been doing a good job. He's only a freshman, but he's just going to get better and better every game with more confidence."
The Rebels' lethargic start allowed Incarnate Word to jump out to a 16-14 lead with 8:33 remaining in the first half, but Mooring's spurt helped bring some energy to the proceedings. UNLV came out of the locker room playing a much livelier brand of ball, as good ball movement led to three quick 3-pointers (two from Kris Clyburn, one from Green) to help widen the margin. After posting seven assists to nine turnovers in the first half, the Rebels bounced back with 11 assists and just four turnovers in the second half as they averaged a robust 1.31 points per possession over the final 20 minutes.
"It was one of those games where you feel a little antsy as a coach," Menzies said. "We better come out and perform, because it was an unacceptable performance last time ... So I'm relieved to see that they responded, but we've still got a ways to go to be the type of team that we want to be."
Sophomore guard Jalen Poyser had a quiet night, as he came in averaging more than 17 points per game but notched just five points (1-of-4 field goals) in 29 minutes. It was the first time this season Poyser failed to hit double figures, but he did contribute a team-high five assists, and he was part of a perimeter rotation that limited Incarnate Word leading scorer Shawn Johnson (19.2 points per game) to just four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
UNLV is now 6-4 on the season. After Saturday’s game at Oregon, the Rebels will wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule with home games against Southern Illinois (Dec. 19) and Kansas (Dec. 22).