Image courtesy of UNLV Athletics
Coach T.J. Otzelberger’s Runnin Rebels faced off against Bruce Weber’s K-State Wildcats last night. It marked UNLV’s eighth all-time meeting with Kansas State and its first in Manhattan since 1982, and the Runnin’ Rebels improved to 5-3 all-time against the Wildcats. Fresh off of a winless Maui Invitational where UNLV played better than their record might indicate and played their best basketball against their toughest opponents, the Rebs cruised into Manhattan, Ks. and took care of business against one of the Big 12’s better teams. Played in front of a small crowd as K-State allowed fans at 15 percent of its arena’s capacity, it marked UNLV’s first win in a true road game against a Big 12 opponent in almost fifteen years as they hadn’t done so since defeating Texas Tech 74- to 66 in Lubbock back in 2006.
While top-to-bottom, this win was UNLV’s most complete game of the season, it doesn’t go unnoticed that they managed to pull it off with only 2 points from Marvin Coleman and just 5 total bench points. To put it simply, if the stars as well as the supporting cast all show up and play hard night after night, this team is going to be difficult to beat.
Up by 1 at the end of the fist half of play, last night was the first time this season that UNLV entered the half with a lead. Rebels would shoot 50% from the field and almost 40% from deep. K-State had more points in the paint, points off turnovers, and second chance points. The most glaring statistic, however were the bench points. Even in a win, UNLV’s 5 to K-State’s 17 is an area of concern. Tulane transfer Moses Wood went scoreless in 24 minutes of play. Devin Tillis and Edoardo Del Cadia would also fail to score in the time they were on the floor. Again, a win is a win, but a team that can beat Kansas State at home on the strength of its starters alone is even more dangerous when you incorporate a legitimate second unit.
UNLV’s “big three” last night might not be its “big three” every night. On 22 of 40 shooting, including 11 of 23 on 3-pointers, Caleb Grill, David Jenkins Jr., and Bryce Hamilton almost beat the Kansas State Wildcats on their own with 55 of the Rebel’s 68 total points. They would be the only Rebels in double-figures. Two rebounds shy of a double-double, Hamilton would also tough out 8 with 6 assists. Hamilton has scored in double figures in 24 straight games, and “World Star” David Jenkins Jr. has now scored in double figures in three straight contests. A marked improvement after starting the season with 11 total points in his first two games.
Its hard for anyone not to be excited for UNLV this year. The losses so far have been close and, save for perhaps the second half against UNC in the first round of the Maui Invitational, somewhat avoidable. When you combine what we saw last night with an active Cheikh Mbacke, Marvin Coleman and a productive bench, you’ve got a team to look out for in the NIT, CBI, or CIT.