After defeating Radford, 81-62, on Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
On a winning streak.
The Rebels (5-4), who came in off a 73-51 victory at Southern Utah on Saturday, made it back-to-back wins for the first time this season with a convincing victory over the Highlanders (6-4) from the Big South Conference.
And with three more winnable games on tap over the next five days, there’s a good chance that Dave Rice’s squad could be sitting on a nice win streak before taking off for Christmas break.
“I think this is what everybody on our team has been waiting for, to get some games back-to-back and we just get it rolling,” guard Jelan Kendrick, who scored a career-high 18 points, said. “I think everybody is excited about that. To get four quick games and have a merry Christmas and Santa Claus comes down everybody’s chimney.”
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The Rebels, who led just 30-29 with 4:44 left in the first half, broke the game open with a 40-16 run over a 16-minute span with Kendrick paving the way with 11 points.
UNLV, which led by as many as 25 points midway through the second half, shot 52.5 percent from the floor and outrebounded Radford, 40-33.
“I think we’re progressing,” forward Khem Birch said. “I think we’re way better than we were against Santa Barbara. Ever since the Santa Barbara loss (on Nov. 12) we’ve played hard every game. Unfortunately we lost I think three games. I still have a lot of confidence in this team. I still feel this is a (NCAA) tournament team regardless of what our record says right now.”
Especially when Kendrick, a former McDonald’s All-American, can perform offensively like he did Wednesday night. He was 6-of-9 from the floor, including 2-for-2 from 3-point range, and also had two rebounds and two assists in 31 minutes of action.
“I thought Jelan had his most complete game of the year,” Rice said. “He scored. He assisted. He facilitated. He guarded. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how he’s bought into our team defense. I just thought JK was fantastic.”
“I think it’s pretty scary,” Birch said. “You have a player like Bryce (Dejean-Jones) starting and then you have a player like Jelan coming off the bench, it’s very scary for the opposing team because you have to worry about two scorers. I’m very happy for him. He had a good game. There’s more to come.”
Birch (16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) and Roscoe Smith (13 points, 12 rebounds) both finished with double-doubles.
“Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith just both seem to be double-double machines,” Rice said.
The Rebels also got big games out of improving freshman point guard Kendall Smith, who finished with eight points, five assists, five rebounds and two steals, and forward Christian Wood, who had 10 points and five rebounds in just 12 minutes of action.
The Rebels return to action on Friday night when they host Sacred Heart (2-9) at 7 p.m.