Published Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017 | 10 p.m.
UNLV cleared out its bench over the final six minutes and cruised to a 95-63 win over Mississippi Valley State.
The Rebels didn't play their best game, as they committed 17 turnovers, but when they held onto the ball MVSU had no chance of stopping them. UNLV shot 63.0 percent for the game and placed seven scorers in double figures, led by Jovan Mooring and Brandon McCoy with 13 apiece.
UNLV is now 10-2 on the season. The Rebels will play their final non-conference game on Friday, when they host Northern Colorado at the Thomas & Mack Center.
UNLV builds huge 70-36 lead over Mississippi Valley State
There is still technically 11:18 left to play in the second half, but UNLV waved goodbye to Mississippi Valley State a long time ago. The Rebels have a 70-36 lead, and it's only getting larger.
Shakur Juiston and Kris Clyburn are the only Rebels to hit double figures in scoring so far (12 and 10 points, respectively), but the entire roster has contributed to this blowout.
Cheickna Dembele is playing his best game of the season, as he just recorded back-to-back assists and now has six points on 3-of-3 shooting to go along with his three assists.
UNLV is shooting 71.1 percent as a team (27-of-38), while Mississippi Valley State is languishing at 32.7 percent (16-of-49).
UNLV blowing out Mississippi Valley State
That didn't take long.
UNLV hasn't played great basketball tonight, but even a shaky performance by the Rebels has been enough to blow out Mississippi Valley State. With 2:40 left in the first half, UNLV has extended its lead to 42-21 and all but closed the door on this game.
Shakur Juiston has come to life, posting six points, seven rebounds and two assists, and his play helped power a 23-8 run to put this one away.
Mississippi Valley State has already shuttled 12 players into the game, but none of them have been able to create offense consistently. The Delta Devils are shooting just 28.1 percent (9-of-32).
UNLV takes early 15-8 lead
UNLV is sleepwalking through the early portion of this game, but Mississippi Valley State is a bad enough team that the Rebels are getting away with it. Despite committing turnovers on nine of the first 17 possessions, UNLV has a 15-8 lead with 11:08 to play in the half.
Jovan Mooring is the one Rebel who has come to play, as he's got nine quick points on 3-of-3 shooting.
Brandon McCoy has endured a rough start, as he's got two points and three turnovers in six minutes.
If UNLV gets its act together, this game could be over in the blink of an eye. But so far, we haven't seen that yet from the Rebels.
UNLV hosting Mississippi Valley State
UNLV will look to improve to 10-2 on the season, and the Rebels should have a pretty easy time of it. Wednesday's opponent, winless Mississippi Valley State (0-11), is rated as the worst team in all of Division 1 by KenPom.com, and UNLV has generally taken care of business against inferior competition this season.
Senior point guard Jordan Johnson missed Tuesday's practice due to an illness, but he should play tonight. If he's at full strength, UNLV should be able to run the Delta Devils off the floor. Not only is Mississippi Valley State the No. 349-rated defense (out of 351 DI teams), but they are 339th in transition defense, allowing 1.19 points per possession.
Rebel basketball searching for bench production
UNLV might have the best starting lineup in the Mountain West, but five players can’t win by themselves.
If the Rebels have designs on playing deep into the conference tournament (and beyond), they are going to have to lean on their reserves at some point, whether it’s due to foul trouble, general fatigue or coach Marvin Menzies just looking for a spark.
Before a Tuesday morning practice, Menzies said developing the bench is a constant priority.
“I just know that you’re only as strong as your weakest link,” Menzies said. “When you can go to the bench and you still have production from the bench, it usually provides a better overall product. So we need our guys to be good when we get them in, and they need to just trust that we know what we’re doing as a staff and we’ll play them accordingly.”
Saturday’s game at Pacific was a good sign for the bench unit. UNLV’s starting lineup of Jordan Johnson, Jovan Mooring, Kris Clyburn, Shakur Juiston and Brandon McCoy was outscored for the first time this season, which could have put the Rebels in danger of suffering a disastrous loss. But the reserves made up the difference.
Menzies utilized a nine-man rotation, and even though the four bench players only contributed eight points, they still provided good minutes. UNLV played more than five minutes with three or more reserves on the court at the same time, and the Rebels outscored Pacific, 11-7, during those stretches.
It was a stark contrast to the first 10 games of the season. So far this year, the starting five has played 143 minutes together and outscored opponents 320-222, giving them a plus/minus rating of +27.4 per 40 minutes and largely allaying the need for strong bench play.
Freshman guard Amauri Hardy didn’t score in 13 minutes against Pacific, but he has had his moments this season, including a 3-point barrage that helped ice UNLV’s win over Illinois two weeks ago. For the season, Hardy is playing more minutes than any other reserve (17.3 minutes per game) and averaging 5.0 points.
He said the second team is coming together and that the players understand how important their roles are.
“We can go really deep into our depth chart,” Hardy said. “We’ve got some good guys that come off the bench with me. I think they can give some valuable minutes to the starters. I know them guys are itching to get out there and help the team, really give some valuable time, contribute to the wins. And not necessarily when we’re in the games, just on the bench clapping for our teammates.”
Cheickna Dembele is another key reserve, as the sophomore center is usually called upon to give leading scorer McCoy a breather or relieve him of foul trouble.
As a defensive-minded big man (1.7 points, 1.9 rebounds in 9.1 minutes per game), Dembele’s raw box score numbers may not be very impressive, but UNLV functions well when he’s on the floor. For the season, Dembele’s plus/minus of +21.6 per 40 minutes is tops among the bench players.
Menzies has praised Dembele’s attitude throughout the season, and the sophomore has embraced his role.
“It’s really important for us to play well,” Dembele said, “because the starting five sometimes can be tired, they can be in foul trouble, so we’ve got to be ready to get in and give our best and do the best we can to help the team to win.”
Junior forward Anthony Smith and freshman swingman Tervell Beck round out the rest of the rotation, and they have had spurts of effectiveness this season. Beck played six minutes against Pacific and scored six points on 2-of-2 shooting, and UNLV outscored the Tigers by six points while he was in the game.
Menzies hopes the entire bench will round into a reliable unit by the end of the year.
“I would like to have them a little bit further along,” Menzies said, “but I understand that with so many new guys and so many new faces that it was going to take a little time for us as a staff to understand who we had and how to play them together and what chemistry worked together with what lineups.”
Menzies said he will look for opportunities to give the reserves more time during blowouts and other favorable situations in an effort to give them more experience as the season goes on.
One such opportunity could come on Wednesday, when UNLV faces an overmatched Mississippi Valley State team (0-11) at the Thomas & Mack Center. With the outcome likely to be decided early, there should be plenty of playing time available for the still-developing second unit.
“The bench guys, the more reps they get in games, that’s real experience,” Menzies said. “So the better off they’ll be.”