UNLV concluded the regular season with its 20th loss by the score of 72-59 at the hands of Fresno State. But Marvin Menzies gave Troy Baxter a cameo over the final 10 minutes, and the freshman proved why he is worth hanging on to for the future.
Baxter scored six points on 3 of 4 shooting and the Rebels outscored Fresno State by six with Baxter on the floor. His athleticism was displayed on both ends of the court in his limited minutes.
The most obvious example was his thunderous dunk. Baxter inbounds the ball after a Fresno State bucket then trails the play and fills in an unoccupied lane.
This is more of an example of poor defense by Fresno State rather than any schematic advantage for UNLV. But the finish is what is important. Baxter left no doubt.
UNLV ranks 343rd in the nation in field goal percentage at the rim making just 51.4 percent of shots in close. Baxter has the ability to fill that void and become a tremendous finisher at the rim.
He also provided relief in two different pick and roll scenarios. First, after Jovan Mooring used a Christian Jones ball screen Baxter found an open lane to the basket and finished at the rim.
Fresno State used three defenders to guard the ball screen. The hedge by Jones’ defender meant he had open space to roll to the basket. Baxter’s defender realizes this and comes to help. That gives UNLV a 3-on-2 situation.
The second ball screen that got Baxter a bucket came when he was the screener. Baxter sets a ball screen for Kris Clyburn. Fresno State uses the same hedge, but the help defense is late.
When UNLV uses ball screens, defenses almost always double team the ball handler or use a hard hedge. The objective is to get the ball out of the hands of Jovan Mooring. Normally, Mooring makes good reads and delivers the ball to open teammates, but their shots don’t fall. The Rebels generate threes and layups off ball screens but can’t score. Baxter could be a fix to that.
He has to make the effort to get as many shots at the rim as possible. The biggest problem with Baxter’s game has been his shot selection. He shoots from the elbow any chance he gets. Guarded, off the dribble, first touch, it doesn’t matter the situation, he loves that shot.
It is an inefficient shot and one that led to a major decrease in playing time throughout the season. If he gets to the rim, Baxter can be one of the most efficient players at UNLV.
On the defensive end Baxter was used in the center position of the Rebels’ matchup zone. It was advantageous because Baxter can cover corner to corner if he needs to. Cheickna Dembele isn’t quick enough to cover out to the corners, so opponents often get open threes when the Rebels are in the matchup zone. Baxter can make up that ground and force opponents to take tougher shots.
He also provided some rim protection when the 6-foot-9 Cullen Russo had a shot at the rim over the 6-foot-4 Jalen Poyser.
To make that defensive spot a permanent home for Baxter, he’d have to prove he could handle one-on-one post up battles. Terrell Carter was abusing UNLV in the post in this game. Carter had 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting, but he didn’t play at all while Baxter was on the floor.
The biggest mistake for Baxter came late in the game when he tried to force a play.
He is at his best when he limits his dribbling. There isn’t much blame to throw on Baxter here though. UNLV was down 12 with less than 90 seconds to play and his teammates weren’t doing much to help him. So he tried to do it on his own.
Baxter only saw playing time due to Tyrell Green suffering a knee injury. Green was struggling int he game as well shooting 1 of 13 from the field and 0 of 8 from three. That opened the door for Baxter.
But it remains to be seen if that door is opening to the future or was just a door that closed after the Fresno State game ended. Menzies hinted at major roster turnover a week ago that could have been a sign directed toward Baxter and other players.
“I am 100 percent certain where I am going with my roster from a recruiting standpoint,” Menzies said. “I’ve seen enough. I don’t need to play a guy a few minutes here or there to determine his value to the future of what we’re doing. I know who I want to roll with going forward. And I know what we need to do in the recruiting landscape.”
Baxter was not dressing for games due to an injury when Menzies made this comment. But he has been healthy for most of UNLV’s games and this was his first chance to play since February 8. It was also the second time he’s played over 10 minutes since January 7.
We got to see Troy Baxter for a few minutes, but if Marvin Menzies has already determined his value for UNLV’s future, it doesn’t matter how well Baxter performed.