UNLV’s basketball team had every reason to be a little flat for Wednesday night’s game with Northern Iowa.
The 20th-ranked Runnin’ Rebels didn’t arrive back from Monday night’s emotional 62-60 victory at UTEP until 5 p.m. on Tuesday night thanks to flight delays out of El Paso. The team watched some film and did a light walk-thru in preparation for a well-coached and well-rested Panther team that had narrowly lost to both Louisville and Memphis earlier this season.
But UNLV (10-1) showed no fatigue or any hangover from the UTEP win.
Far from it in fact.
The Rebels played arguably their best half of the season while bolting out to a 43-22 halftime lead en route to a surprisingly comfortable 73-59 victory before a crowd of 14,484 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
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Freshman forward Anthony Bennett, garnering more and more national support for national freshman of the year honors, led the way with 20 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks while sophomore forward Khem Birch just missed a double-double in his Thomas & Mack debut, finishing with 11 points, nine rebounds, two steals and one block.
The Rebels held Northern Iowa to just 29.6 percent (8-of-27) shooting in the first half, a season low for a half for the Panthers. UNLV meanwhile shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, connecting on 6-of-12 attempts, including two each by Bennett and senior guard Anthony Marshall.
“I think you saw how good this team can be in the first 25 minutes, and the way they closed it out,” coach Dave Rice said.
The Rebels led by as many as 24 points early in the second half, held the Panthers to just 33 percent shooting and finished with a 42-34 rebounding edge.
Bennett scored 14 points in the first half, including nine in a 2½ minute stretch that included two nifty drives to the basket, a long 3-pointer and a powerful slam off a nice feed from Marshall (See highlight package above).
“Is Anthony Bennett of UNLV currently the best Diaper Dandy? Name one better – not on potential but actually producing like he has” tweeted longtime ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale afterward.
Another ESPN.com article suggested Bennett should be a candidate for NATIONAL player of the year honors.
Bennett discusses how he’s dealing with all the attention in the video below.
UNLV, which has won eight straight games, hosts Canisius on Saturday night at 7 p.m.