It rarely looked good, but UNLV was able to grind out a tough, gritty 62-60 victory over UTEP on Monday. The outcome wasn’t decided until UTEP senior Konner Tucker missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer, but a road win is a road win, right?
Let’s use a Fast Breakdown to examine how the Rebels (9-1) came away with this one.
Bennett boxed in
This was Anthony Bennett’s quietest game as a collegian. The freshman center was swarmed by the UTEP defense, and the extra attention seemed to fluster Bennett. He finished just 2-of-9 from the floor for a season-low 10 points. If you’re looking for a reason this game was closer than expected, this is probably at the top of the list. Even though he’s a freshman, the Rebels lean on Bennett for big offensive production. When it’s not there, the whole offense bogs down.
Bennett also had a tough time on the glass, as did the rest of the Rebels. That seemed inconceivable heading into the game, as UTEP ranks as one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. But UNLV finished just plus-2 in the rebound column, 31-29. They did get a couple of key caroms late in the game off of a missed Bennett 3-pointer — Katin Reinhardt snuck in for a putback attempt, and Quintrell Thomas gathered Reinhardt’s miss for an easy bucket. Those turned out to be the winning points for UNLV, making it the second time in two games that Thomas has scored the winning basket off an offensive rebound.
Birch makes an impact
Khem Birch made his UNLV debut and flashed some skills that can definitely help this team. In 14 minutes, he scored four points, grabbed three rebounds and appeared to block a shot, though the official stats didn’t count it. He didn’t get much playing time in the second half, and stayed on the bench down the stretch. But he was clearly the most athletic big man on the floor (Bennett was on the sideline during most of Birch’s minutes) and should work into a bigger role quickly.
After Thomas’ putback made it 62-56, UTEP scored back-to-back layups to pull within two points with 37 seconds to play. But when the Rebels inbounded, UTEP let 18 seconds run off the clock before fouling and sending Bryce Dejean-Jones to the line. BDJ missed the free throws, but the wasted time turned out to be critical. UTEP’s final possession was chaotic, and coach Tim Floyd was forced to call timeout with 4.0 seconds to play. Konner Tucker got a good look at the buzzer, but the Miners could have extended the game significantly by fouling sooner. The Rebels lucked out there.
What it means
Once again, it’s hard to criticize after a road win, because those are always hard to come by. But the rebounding problems are worrisome. Between Bennett, Thomas and Birch, the Rebels should have dominated inside, but that trio combined for just 11 rebounds. If this had been a loss, that stat would have loomed large. But since they won on a Thomas offensive rebound, I guess you can say they grabbed the rebounds when they mattered. Just get on the plane and head back with the W.
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Photo by Mark Lambie | AP
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