Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau
Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019 | 7:15 p.m.
Effort was the bare minimum required of the UNLV basketball team on Saturday. The Rebels provided it and were rewarded with an easy, 94-56 victory over lowly San Jose State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
It was a huge improvement over UNLV’s performance on Wednesday, when a lack of focus and energy on the defensive end resulted in a 106-88 blowout loss at Air Force. After such a disastrous showing, it was important for the Rebels to respond the right way against a vastly inferior SJSU team.
The team’s increased energy was evident in the early minutes, as the Rebels ran out to a 21-6 lead. They extended the advantage to 46-25 at the half, and the game was never closer than 23 points throughout the second half.
After allowing Air Force to shoot 59.7 percent, the Rebels took out their frustration by clamping down on San Jose State (34.8 percent).
Senior guard Noah Robotham finished with 13 points and eight assists, but said he and his teammates were wholly focused on the other end of the floor.
“I think the biggest thing in the Air Force game was obviously our defense,” Robotham said. “Our offense was fine, but our defense was not up to the standard we have on this team. So to come back and have a team score 56 points, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Head coach Marvin Menzies said he coached his players hard in the two days after the Air Force game, challenging the Rebels to take pride in their defense. And even though it was only San Jose State — one of the very worst teams in the nation — it was a still a good sign that the Rebels held a league opponent to 23-of-66 from the field (3-of-15 from 3-point range) while forcing 15 turnovers.
Junior Nick Blair was a key part of the defensive effort, as he posted 12 rebounds and a steal during his 17 minutes off the bench.
“There was definitely a challenge set,” Blair said. “We took a hard punch from Air Force and we definitely wanted to make a statement and let everybody know we can bounce back from something like that.”
While the Rebels were smothering San Jose State at one end, they used 3-point shooting to build their lead at the other end. UNLV connected on 15-of-31 from long distance, led by Joel Ntambwe’s 4-of-7 showing. Seven different Rebels hit a 3, and five different players hit more than one.
Ntambwe finished with a team-high 16 points. Kris Clyburn and Bryce Hamilton scored 12 apiece, and Hamilton added a team-high three steals.
UNLV is now 4-1 in the Mountain West and 10-7 overall. The Rebels will host New Mexico on Tuesday.