The Northern Iowa players and coaches probably thought they had a plan to bottle up Anthony Bennett. You can almost picture them watching film of the UTEP game, noting how the Miners used aggressive double-teams and physical play to frustrate Bennett and hold him to a season-low 10 points, and saying, “Yeah… we can do that too.”
Well, best laid plans, and all that.
Bennett almost single-handedly buried UNI with an amazing first half, and the Rebels moved to 10-1 with an impressive 73-59 win. Let’s examine how it happened with a Fast Breakdown.
Bennett blows up
Bennett could probably cut his draft lottery highlight mixtape using only plays from the first 20 minutes against Northern Iowa. He scored 14 points in the frame on 5-of-10 shooting (2-of-4 on 3-pointers) and pulled down eight rebounds, but the stats don’t really do it justice. Northern Iowa tried doubling him, but it didn’t make any difference. They had no answer. Bennett finished with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks.
Khem catches up
After playing 14 rust-shaking minutes in his UNLV debut, Birch got 25 minutes against UNI and looked like a difference-maker. He finished just shy of a double-double, with 11 points and nine rebounds, and he made a huge defensive impact, blocking two shots and coming up with a pair of steals. Dave Rice must have liked what he saw from Birch, because he played the final six minutes after not seeing the floor in crunch time against UTEP. “Tonight he was a force on both ends of the floor,” Rice said.
Shooters heat up
Coming into the game, UNLV was focused on limiting the damage Northern Iowa could do from 3-point range. Consider it done. UNI shot just 37.5 percent from distance, and the Rebels’ shooters more than held their own. In the decisive first half, UNLV hit 6-of-12 from 3-point range while building a 43-22 lead at the break. Anthony Marshall (six first-half points), Katin Reinhardt (seven) and Justin Hawkins (five) all came out firing, and the game was essentially over at halftime.
UNLV was the team playing on a quick turnaround, but Northern Iowa looked unprepared for the intensity at the start of the game. The Rebels scored all 10 of their fast-break points in the first half, and UNI was buried beneath an avalanche of Anthony Bennett. The Rebels didn’t play their best in the second half, but it didn’t matter.
What it means
Was this the Rebels’ best performance of the season? It’s hard to say that after they got outscored in the second half (37-30), but it was close. Khem Birch is already showing how much of a difference he can make, and that’s my biggest takeaway from this game. His defensive prowess was expected, but he also demonstrated a nice ability to finish around the basket against Northern Iowa. Birch and Bennett combined for 31 points and 21 rebounds — that kind of production on a consistent basis would make UNLV a flat-out nightmare to match up against.
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