UNLV head coach Dave Rice juggled his starting lineup for Tuesday night’s game with rival Nevada, but it wasn’t because he felt he needed to make a change.
Sophomore forward Khem Birch, who had started six straight games and has been dominating at times on the defensive end of the court, came off the bench after missing practice on Sunday when he missed his flight after attending his father’s wedding in Canada.
Birch more than made up the miscue, scoring a team-high 14 points while also grabbing seven rebounds, blocking two shots and finishing with a game-high three steals in helping lead the Runnin’ Rebels (17-4, 4-2) to a 66-54 victory before a crowd of 16,787 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
“I wanted to impress my coaches because I came (back) late,” Birch, who blamed being detained by customs officials for missing his flight. “I didn’t want to be like a bad person or anything.”
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Freshman forward Anthony Bennett had 13 points and nine rebounds and guard Bryce Dejean-Jones added 11 points, eight rebounds and four assists to lead UNLV to its fourth win in the past five games.
Birch had received permission from Rice to attend his father’s wedding on Saturday in Ontario, Canada, with the understanding he’d make it back in time for Sunday’s practice. But that didn’t happen.
“I got stuck at the border,” Birch said. “Customs. By the time I got out I missed my flight.”
As the video highlights above show, Birch was certainly flying high on the court, blocking two shots, altering several more and sprinting down the court to finish a fast break with a dunk.
“I wanted to bring energy off the bench,” the 6-9 former McDonald’s All-American said.
That he did … and more.
Thanks in large part to Birch and also Mike Moser, who hit a key jumper down the stretch after UNR closed to within seven points. UNLV finished with a 19-9 edge in bench points over the Wolf Pack (11-9, 2-4).
With the win, UNLV remained just one game in the loss column behind first place New Mexico (17-3, 4-1), which plays at Wyoming (15-4, 2-4) tonight.
Although there were few highlight-reel plays and the game fit more into the “grinder” category, the Rebels were in control most of the way, leading by double-digits for the majority of the second half. A big reason for that was good team defense that held the Wolf Pack to 38 percent shooting and 54 points, 16 below their season average.
Guard Anthony Marshall had another big game for the Rebels, scoring eight points while dishing off six of the team’s 19 assists. Marshall also was one of several Rebel defenders that helped contain Wolf Pack guard Deonte Burton, who came into the contest averaging 19 points in Mountain West play, to 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
The Rebels return to action on Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Boise State (14-5, 2-3).