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Rebels pull away for 73-59 win over Hawaii in Diamond Head opener

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Marco Garcia / Associated Press

UNLV forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong (34) tries to shoot over Hawaii center Dawson Carper (44) and guard Eddie Stansberry (3) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Diamond Head Classic, Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Honolulu.

Updated Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 | 4:30 p.m.

UNLV used a 14-0 run midway through the second half to take the lead, and the Rebels cruised the rest of the way to a 73-59 win over Hawaii in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic.

The Rebels went through an extended scoring drought at the end of the first half, and the cold streak carried over into the second half. But Kris Clyburn and Joel Ntambwe got hot, combining for 21 points in the second half, and the Rebels were able to pull away.

Ntambwe and Clyburn finished with 17 points apiece. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua got his second straight start in place of injured forward Shakur Juiston, and the freshman contributed seven points and nine rebounds. Noah Robotham scored 16.

UNLV now advances to the winner’s bracket of the Diamond Head field. The Rebels will face Indiana State in the second round tomorrow (1:30 p.m., ESPN2); the winner of that contest will move on to Tuesday’s championship game.

Three quick thoughts on the Rebels’ win over Hawaii:

Ntambwe breaking out

The Rebels have been searching for a go-to-guy all season, and they may have their answer now. Freshman forward Joel Ntambwe played another great game against Hawaii, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds and a block. He is averaging 19 points over the last three contests (on 53.1 percent shooting) while leading UNLV in scoring in each game.

Short rotation, no problem

With Juiston out due to a knee injury, UNLV was already short-handed on Saturday. And coach Marvin Menzies chose not to play Tervell Beck for the second straight game, so that left the Rebels with a seven-man rotation against Hawaii (with sophomore Ben Coupet playing five spot minutes in the first half).

If the team was tired, it didn’t shot. The Rebels defended with good intensity throughout, holding Hawaii to 33.3 percent shooting on the day (20-of-60). UNLV also out-rebounded the Warriors by a 44-29 margin. The short rotation may catch up to the Rebels at some point, but it worked against Hawaii.

Indiana State up next

The Rebels were hoping to draw Colorado in the semifinals of the Diamond Head, as it would have added a quality opponent to the schedule (Colorado is No. 69 in KenPom rating). But Indiana State (7-3, No. 132 KenPom) will not be a pushover.

The Sycamores lead the country in 3-point accuracy at 44.5 percent, but they are near the bottom in total attempts (128, 353rd in the nation). If UNLV can keep them to a reasonable number of attempts, the Rebels’ size advantage in the paint and on the boards should give them a good chance to advance to the title game.

UNLV takes commanding lead over Hawaii, 50-38

The Rebels are on a 15-3 run, and they now have a 50-38 lead with 8:15 remaining in the second half.

Kris Clyburn has gotten hot from long range, knocking down both of his 3-point attempts in the half, and Joel Ntambwe has scored seven of his 14 points in the last six minutes to help UNLV take control of the game.

The Rebels have also upped their advantage on the boards, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds to build a 15-5 advantage on points in the paint.

There's still a lot of time remaining, but assuming UNLV can avoid another brutal drought like the one that ended the first half, it looks like the Rebels will move on to face Indiana State in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic tomorrow.

UNLV regains second-half lead over Hawaii

UNLV has gotten some offense from an unlikely source, and with 11:27 remaining, the Rebels have regained a 41-35 lead over Hawaii.

The Rebels trailed, 35-33, when Amauri Hardy found Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua under the basket, and Tchamwa Tchatchoua finished while drawing contact. He made the and-1 free throw to give UNLV its first lead of the second half, and on the next possession, JTT knocked down a short jumper to make it a three-point advantage.

After a defensive stop, Kris Clyburn buried a corner 3 to make it an 8-0 run and extend UNLV's lead to 41-35.

Clyburn now has nine points, and Tchamwa Tchatchoua has seven. Joel Ntambwe leads UNLV with 11 points.

Hawaii leads UNLV at half, 28-26

After starting hot, UNLV managed just one field goal over the final eight minutes of the half, a stretch of futility that has allowed Hawaii to grab a 28-26 lead at the break.

The Rebels missed nine of their final 10 shots from the field, with only a Bryce Hamilton putback to help hold off Hawaii's charge. While UNLV struggled to score, the Warriors went on an 18-3 run to end the half.

Joel Ntambwe led UNLV with seven points in the half, while Mbacke Diong pulled down 10 rebounds.

The good news for UNLV is that the big men got their hands on a lot of offensive rebound opportunities. They only managed to secure six boards, but they converted those into 10 second-chance points. With a little more luck on the caroms in the second half, the Rebels could really clean up on putbacks over the final 20 minutes.

Hawaii didn't play a great half of offensive basketball, either, making just 7-of-23 shots from inside the arc. But the Warriors made up for it by hitting 4-of-9 from 3-point range.

Rebels off to hot start at Hawaii

Joel Ntambwe has taken over in the early going, and with 11:50 left in the first half, UNLV has a 17-10 lead over Hawaii.

Ntambwe has been everywhere for the Rebels. The freshman forward is leading all scorers with seven points, and he has added two rebounds, an assist and a block during his seven minutes of playing time. Ntambwe is 3-of-4 from the field, including 1-of-2 from 3-point range.

Defensively, UNLV has forced Hawaii into three early turnovers and converted those miscues into seven quick transition points.

Three keys for UNLV basketball vs. Hawaii in Diamond Head Classic

Coming off an adrenaline-infused, last-second win over BYU last weekend, the Rebels will try to carry that momentum all the way across the Pacific today, when they face off against Hawaii in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic (2 p.m., ESPNU).

Three keys for UNLV:

Give Robotham the green light

After making just 21.1 percent of his 3-pointers over the first seven games, it appears as though senior point guard Noah Robotham has broken out of his slump. He has made six of his last 12 from long distance, including the buzzer-beater that gave UNLV a 92-90 win over BYU last time out.

The Rebels need 3-point shooting, especially in the starting lineup. Robotham is the best candidate to provide it. He has to keep launching — especially now that he’s hot.

Short rotation, long minutes

With senior forward Shakur Juiston sidelined by a knee injury and sophomore forward Tervell Beck in the doghouse, UNLV is down two rotation players. That means Marvin Menzies will have to manage minutes carefully in order to get through three games in four days against Diamondhead competition.

Against BYU, Menzies did it by sticking freshman Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua in the starting lineup in Juiston’s place and riding him for 40 minutes. Menzies said some of that was based on the specific matchup against BYU, but Tchamwa Tchatchoua is ready for extended playing time if that’s what it takes.

“Just play hard, play some defense and give everything I have at every point of the game,” he said when asked about his approach to his first career start. “That’s it. That’s what I was trying to do.”

Speed things up

Hawaii plays at one of the slowest paces in the country, averaging just 68.3 possessions per game (327th out of 351 teams). UNLV prefers to play faster, but speeding up Hawaii will have to be a team effort. It will be up to big men Mbacke Diong, Joel Ntambwe and Tchamwa Tchatchoua to secure clean defensive rebounds, and ball-handlers like Robotham, Amauri Hardy and Kris Clyburn will have to push it aggressively in the open court.

If the Rebels do that, they should be able to take advantage of Hawaii’s transition defense and convert enough easy baskets to win.

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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