Rebels run past Redhawks for fourth straight win
The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are riding a four-game win streak following a 54-point drubbing of the Benedictine Mesa Redhawks.
UNLV matched its largest point total in their head coach TJ’s Otzelberger’s tenure with a 99-45 win over its NAIA opponent.
“[It’s] just making sure we have the same approach, come in with the same mentality so we prepped the same way for this team as we would any other team,” junior guard David Jenkins Jr. said. “It’s four-in-a-row obviously so it’s something we want to build on moving forward going into Utah State.”
This was the second of two games that were added to the Rebels schedule in the wake of pausing their program.
With the win, UNLV improves to 5-6 on the year after starting the season 0-3.
After pausing it’s program for 33 days, UNLV has now played six games and sport a 4-2 record in those contests.
“It’s really important because I think there’s been so much uncertainty, so many things we’ve had to adapt and adjust to,” Otzelberger said. “To get [the players] in a rhythm and routine, especially with practice and how they attack each day, it’s been pivotal to our success and our progress.”
A two-game home series with Utah State is up next on the schedule Monday, Jan. 25 and Wednesday, Jan. 27.
“[Utah State’s Neemias Queta] is as impactful a defensive player as there is in the country,” Otzelberger said. “He’s got awesome instincts, he knows when to make a play on the drive, he knows when to get back to his man and [Utah State] try to anchor him in that paint.
“Anytime you go in there and challenge him, if you’re not successful, [Utah State] is really going to get out and get going in transition so you’ve got to pick the right spots.”
Tip-off for game one of the series is scheduled for 6 p.m.
For the second consecutive game, senior forward Cheikh Mbacke Diong set a new career-high in scoring.
He finished with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field to go along with 11 rebounds.
“He’s proving and earning every night out more opportunities and building and earning that trust,” Otzelberger said. “That needs to be a part of our offense a lot more than we’ve utilized it at this point.”
Mbacke’s activity early forced his matchup, Maurice Walton, into two fouls in the first minute of the game.
On every defensive rebound, Otzelberger could be heard yelling “to the rim,” urging his team to run the floor, looking to finish in the paint.
“Everything, [He’s meant] everything,” Jenkins said. “He brings energy every single game. Even though some of the early games, he might not classify as his best games but he still has high energy every single game and we just want to feed off that.”
Leading scorer Bryce Hamilton missed the contest after tweaking his ankle toward the end of UNLV’s last game against New Mexico.
“He’s questionable with his ankle,” Otzelberger said. “That’s just something we’ll continue to re-evaluate each day. I think his health and well-being is our top priority so making sure we get that right for him and we’ll just take it one day at a time.”
Otzelberger added that he was exceptionally pleased with the team’s defense to start each half, citing the goal was to get three stops in a row.
“I thought our defense to start each half was really sound,” he said. “It was an opportunity to get a lot of guys playing time that we didn’t have early in the year especially with those freshmen.”
Those defensive stretches helped UNLV grab a stranglehold on the game after going on a 53-12 run between the first and second halves.
There was a 20-plus minute stretch where Benedictine Mesa shot 1-of-19 from the floor, building a lead as large as 60 points.
Jenkins was the other 20-point scorer for the Rebels, adding four three-point makes in four attempts.
Freshman guard Nick Blake added 15 points in his first career college start. He also tallied five rebounds and led the team with seven assists.
It was announced earlier this week that junior guard Marvin Coleman would miss the remainder of the season due to a stress fracture in his right leg.
“There’s a lot of games where if there’s a timeout I’ll always go to [Coleman] -- which is kind of funny because I’m older than him but I can learn a lot from the younger guys so I’ll ask him, ‘What can I do better from the point guard spot,” Jenkins said. “He always tells me to make sure I command the team and tell guys positive things because the more positive things we can tell each other throughout the game [...] the better we’ll be able to get through that adversity.”
The lopsided victory allowed Otzelberger and company to play his freshmen more extended minutes, including getting forward Kendrick Gilbert his first college minutes.
In addition, guard Donvan Yap scored his first collegiate points late in the second half.
This game saw five of the seven freshmen on the roster get playing time.
“I feel like they really [saw] it as an opportunity,” Jenkins said. “They came in and weren’t hesitant. They were confident and part of that is because we go at each other every day at practice and we make each other better.”