Image courtesy of UNLV Men’s Basketball
The UNLV Rebels wrapped up the Camping World Maui Invitational against coach Bob McKillop’s Davidson Wildcats. While a challenging tourney for the Rebels as they were the underdogs in every matchup of the invitational, UNLV showed that they are not one to back down in the face of adversity. Constantly chipping away at the point differential, the Runnin Rebs went from a 27-point loss in the first round against to UNC, to a 12-point defeat against Alabama, ultimately ending their time in Asheville with last night’s 4-point nail-biter against Steph Curry’s alma mater, Davidson.
Coach Otzelberger’s team displayed a marked improvement in every game this week, and that positive momentum will need to propel UNLV into the next several games as they take on K-State, Eastern Washington and Pepperdine. The idea is for the Rebs to string together a few confidence-building wins before they enter into Mountain West conference play against Wyoming on December 20th.
The Rebels had really impressive box stats last night. And it isn’t the first time this season that the outcome hasn’t necessarily reflected the effort. UNLV scored 19 points off turnovers to Davidson’s 9, had 11 bench points to Davidson’s 4, and had 8 fast break points to Davidson’s zero. While certainly the most attempts taken this season with 18, the Rebels still need to take more free throws. 77.8% on 14 of 18 is a drastic improvement, but Davidson would shoot 80.6% on 25 of 31 which is just heartbreaking to a coach and fan base in any close loss. A silver lining, but it should speak to the teams potential that their last two losses, to far superior teams, were essentially lost at the charity stripe. After trailing by as many as 14 points with 13 minutes left in the game, the Runnin’ Rebels fought back to cut the deficit to just 3 points with five minutes to go and just never managed to get over the hump.
UNLV junior guards Bryce Hamilton and David Jenkins Jr. both scored season highs combining for over half of the Rebels’ 73 total points with 27 and 18 respectively. They were the only Rebels in double-digits, and unfortunately didn’t have much in the way of help. For a tournament that has seen the arrival of Caleb Grill and his offensive prowess, he was a non-factor in last night’s game scoring only 6 points in 32 minutes of play. Marvin Coleman and Devin Tillis poured in a half-dozen each, but that would about sum up the Rebel effort. The real question is when will Cheikh Mbacke triumphantly make his presence felt. 4 points in 22 minutes of play with 1 missed free throw is hardly an ideal stat line for a 6’11”, 235lb veteran forward whose team desperately needs production from him.
In 4 games, one can confidently say that this UNLV team has what it takes to win games against good-to-great teams. The question is how long will it take for all of the pieces to come together. Had Caleb Grill taken 4 more 3-point attempts last night or Marvin Coleman been more of a factor in any of the games leading up to to last night’s Davidson matchup, UNLV might have taken a win in this tournament. Frankly, had the team, as a whole, attacked the rim and gone to the free throw line more, the Rebels could easily have at least one win on the season already.