Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016 | 10:46 p.m.
The last time UNLV played Colorado State, Jalen Poyser notched 12 points for his third straight game in double-digit scoring. Since then it’s been an offensive abyss for the 6-foot-4 freshman guard, but with the Rams in town he was able to find some of that form and help lead the Rebels to one of their most complete victories of the season.
“Jalen came off the bench and gave us a tremendous game,” interim coach Todd Simon said.
Poyser finished with a career-high 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, plus new bests in assists (six), rebounds (five) and minutes (30). Poyser’s lone 3-pointer gave UNLV (15-11, 6-7) a 15-point lead, its largest of the game, and he was vital in preserving an 87-80 victory against Colorado State (14-11, 6-6) in front of an announced crowd of 11,753 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I saw a lot of opportunities to score and (also) to make my players look good,” said Poyser, who had been scoring 3.2 points on 26.2 percent shooting the past 10 games.
UNLV led wire-to-wire, and after a sluggish opening four minutes, the Rebels were dialed in for the majority of the game. They shook off foul trouble in a couple of instances, including sophomore Dwayne Morgan picking up his third in the final three seconds of the first half, and through it all they rebounded and forced turnovers. Those two things were vital.
In the first meeting, which UNLV lost despite leading by five in the final minute, Colorado State led points off turnovers 22-10. The Rebels matched that tonight with their own 22-10 advantage after forcing 21 turnovers to their own 13, and the undersized roster rebounded well enough (CSU led 41-37) to make sure the Rams didn’t get too many second-chance looks.
“It’s indicative of what we want to be,” Simon said of the overall performance. “I still think we could have played a bit faster.”
The Rebels got into fast breaks a little bit, leading that category 11-3, but they always want to play faster. Whether they actually can depends largely on how the personnel handle myriad factors, particularly foul trouble, and tonight that was a strength. UNLV shook off some questionable calls in the first half and didn’t let it affect their aggressiveness the rest of the way.
Sophomore guard Pat McCaw led all scorers with 20 points on 11 shots, but Simon was more impressed with the way McCaw guarded for 39 minutes.
“Pat’s the best defensive player in the league, mano y mano, in my opinion,” Simon said. “… Not only does he guard on the ball, but he keeps the ball out of people’s hands, and that’s a huge aspect.”
McCaw also had eight rebounds, four steals and three assists to one turnover. Senior guard Ike Nwamu scored 14, Morgan finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, and senior guard Jerome Seagears rounded out UNLV’s double-digit scorers with 11 points, five assists and three steals, which gives him nine takeaways in the past two games.
UNLV came in with an aggressive offensive mentality — “attack their hips, go through their chin,” Poyser said — and it showed up at both ends of the floor pretty much the entire game. The Rebels went more than eight minutes in the second half without committing a turnover while consistently creating them on defense, and that, not coincidentally, was when they extended the lead from 3 to 15 to put things out of reach.
“It’s the most consistent we’ve been in terms of guarding every possession,” Simon said. “We stayed on attack.”
UNLV returns to the road on Tuesday at Air Force, one of the two worst teams in the Mountain West. That’s never been an easy trip, though, as the Rebels have lost two of the past three at Clune Arena and needed overtime to win the year before that.
The Rebels weren’t great at much tonight, but they were at least very good at nearly everything. They got contributions up and down the eight-man rotation that now includes walk-on Austin Starr, and Poyser embodied that consistency tonight.
Whatever the Rebels needed, Poyser was there to deliver, whether it was a couple of spectacular spin moves to get buckets, easy passes to rotate the ball or some decent defense.
Poyser and the Rebels did a little bit of everything, which is exactly what UNLV needed.
“All those things just contribute to winning,” Simon said.
Simon reacts to Augmon’s comments
A few hours before the game, associate head coach Stacey Augmon spoke out in the Review-Journal in support of himself to be UNLV’s next head coach. Simon, the interim head coach, at whom Augmon and former teammates Greg Anthony and Larry Johnson took thinly veiled shots in the story, said on pregame radio he wasn’t concerned about Augmon’s comments.
Simon said he saw Augmon’s statements only as supporting himself and not throwing accusations toward Simon, which members of Augmon’s family have done publicly. When asked about their relationship, Simon said he and Augmon have had a positive working relationship since Dave Rice was fired Jan. 10 and he doesn’t expect that to change.
Augmon, who is UNLV’s third all-time leading scorer and part of the national championship team, is upset because he didn’t get the interim job.