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UNLV outlasts Southern Utah, 76-71

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Cheickna Dembele (15) snags an offensive rebound during a game against Pacific at the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018.

In a game like UNLV’s 76-71 win over Southern Utah on Friday, in which there were 54 fouls called and a combined 30 turnovers, you can’t expect the winning coach to be ecstatic about the way his team played.

And so Marvin Menzies did what he had to do in his postgame press conference, saying that while the Rebels picked up the win, he wasn’t satisfied with the performance.

He also got on his players for not taking the close call to heart.

“I’m a little down because I wanted them to be down,” Menzies said. “I wanted them to be a little bit more, ‘Man, we should have played better.’ And I didn’t feel that. The culture is still developing.”

But even though Menzies said all that, there’s a chance that on the inside, he was happy with the way his team slugged their way through 40 bruising minutes against an opponent that didn’t give an inch — and found a way to win.

Southern Utah came into the game with a cause. Former UNLV player Dwayne Morgan transferred to SUU last year, and the senior forward was obviously hyped up to take on his former team. Morgan’s energy set the tone early, and Southern Utah jumped out to a 14-8 lead.

UNLV found its footing thanks to some hot shooting from Bryce Hamilton (nine points in the first half), and the Rebels eventually caught and passed SUU to take a 36-28 lead into halftime.

The score wasn’t the story, however. The foul column was the more important factor in the second half, as a closely called game led to foul trouble for UNLV big men Shakur Juiston and Mbacke Diong. Both had to sit out stretches of the second half, forcing Menzies to mix-and-match his lineups.

The Rebels attempted to grind their way through the minutes without Juiston and Diong, and Southern Utah was able to hang around and eventually pull even, 55-55, with seven minutes remaining on a Jason Richardson 3-pointer.

A 7-0 run by the Rebels, powered by a Kris Clyburn 3-point play, provided some breathing room, and when Juiston and Diong finally got back on the floor together down the stretch, they were able to help seal the win.

UNLV was clinging to a 69-65 lead with less than 90 seconds to play when Juiston bullied his way to the glass for an offensive rebound and putback to make it a 6-point advantage.

The lead was five points with 40 seconds left when Diong made the defensive play of the game, closing out on a Jacob Calloway 3-point attempt and blocking the shot (Diong’s third block of the game). Diong corralled the loose ball, Southern Utah had to begin fouling, and the game was won.

Diong finished with nine points, six rebounds and the three blocks in 22 minutes. Juiston efforted through a 4-of-11 shooting night to post 11 points and 16 rebounds, including a game-high five offensive boards. UNLV outscored Southern Utah by six points in the 30 minutes Juiston was on the floor.

Menzies couldn’t overtly praise his team after such a sloppy performance, but he certainly sounded proud as he defended Juiston against anyone who might want to criticize his shooting line.

“It’s not just about the points,” Menzies said. “Fans and social media [will say], ‘Oh, he had a bad game.’ He had sixteen rebounds. But people will say he had an off night. No, he helped us win the game.”

That’s about as close as Menzies could come to endorsing the way UNLV played on Friday. But the Rebels’ fourth straight win improved their record to 4-1 on the season, and Menzies had to feel good about that.

Morgan return cut short

Dwayne Morgan finished with 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting, but only played 22 minutes due to an apparent hand injury that sidelined him for several stretches of the second half.

After the game, Menzies said Morgan’s return to Las Vegas wasn’t a distraction for the Rebels.

“Dwyane and I are still close,” Menzies said. “It would be different if he left on bad terms and he was treated unfairly here or he thought he was treated unfairly here. Then the emotion can maybe drive a wedge and [create] a distraction for either our players or them.”

Morgan was a 5-star recruit who committed to UNLV under Dave Rice. He played two seasons for the Rebels but was arrested during the summer shortly after Menzies was named head coach. Morgan was suspended from the team and eventually transferred to SUU.

As far as Menzies is concerned, there are no hard feelings on either side.

“Dwayne is a UNLV grad,” Menzies said. “He’s a Rebel. He may be wearing their uniform, but at heart he’s a Rebel."

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

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