By Steve Guiremand
What’s that’s old phrase about having to learn to walk before you can run?
For UNLV’s men’s basketball team, it might not also hurt mastering shooting a little, too.
The Runnin’ Rebels, making their 2011-12 season debut following months of a heavy “Let’s Run” promotion, barely crawled away with an ugly 58-50 exhibition victory over Division II Washburn (Kan.) before a crowd of 9,619 at the Thomas & Mack Center Tuesday night.
It was not exactly the kind of debut many envisioned for new head coach Dave Rice’s squad who came out firing blanks, shooting a dreadful 17.4 percent (4-of-23) from the floor in the first half and making just two field goals in the first 16:45. The Rebels missed their first 10 3-point attempts, connected on just 2-of-18 treys (11.1 percent) for the game and finished with 19 turnovers.
“Very bad,” junior point guard Anthony Marshall, who took over the game down the stretch and finished with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) said. “You could sense the crowd getting antsy. You could hear the little noises and groans. We knew that wasn’t the way we wanted to play basketball.”
The hustling Marshall, who took out a row of chairs on the baseline while hustling for a ball in the first half and probably finished with more floor burns than points, hit UNLV’s first trey at the 17:29 mark of the second half to cut Washburn’s lead (yes, you read that right) to 27-24. He also drove and fed Carlos Lopez (11 points in 15 minutes) for a pair of dunks on back-to-back positions late in the game when the Rebels broke a 47-47 tie with an 8-0 run that also included a steal and layup by forward Mike Moser (14 points, 9 rebounds).
It was only after that spurt that the folks at the T&M could exhale a little.
Rice was upbeat in his postgame press conference, pointing out his team battled to win a game on a horrific shooting night. The Rebels, who played without all-Mountain West forward Chace Stanback (suspension), finished with 14 steals and held the Ichabods to just 36.8 percent shooting.
“Sometimes when you struggle to make shots, a little panic sets in,” Rice said. “But we really believe this is a team that can flourish in transition. We’re a work in progress.
“We found a way tonight,” Rice added. “We know we’re going to play better teams down the road, and we know we’ve got to get better. We’ll be better when we get out there next time.”
The Rebels will face Loyola Marymount in a closed scrimmage (per NCAA rules) on Saturday afternoon in one final tune-up before opening their season on Nov. 11 against Grand Canyon.