For the first time since 2001, and only the fourth time in school history, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels lost an exhibition game on Friday night, 71-70, to Dixie State at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels committed 20 turnovers, shot a miserable 34.8 percent from the floor and made just 16-of-30 free throws (53.3 percent).
And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who was outstanding with 10 points (2-of-3 3-pointers), 3 rebounds and 2 assists, left midway through the first half after feeling a “pop” in his right hamstring and will likely be sidelined for the start of the regular season … if not longer.
“Bryce said that he felt his hamstring pop,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Didn’t play the rest of the game and it’s a day to day situation. Don’t have any prognosis on it but it’s fairly significant.”
Depending on the severity of the injury, Dejean-Jones could be sidelined anywhere from one-to-three weeks (Grade 1) to three-to-six months (Grade 3) according to the website Physioworks.com. A Grade 2 strain could sideline him anywhere from four-to-eight weeks.
Dejean-Jones appeared to suffer the injury while running back to contest a layup by Dixie State Dalton Groskreutz, who finished with a game-high 20 points. He trotted back to midcourt but clutched his right leg and bent over in pain as Khem Birch threw a pass toward him that went out of bounds. The Rebels were leading 19-10 at the time.
Dixie State immediately went on a 10-1 run to tie it, 20-20, and eventually took a 29-27 lead later in the half on a jumper by junior guard DeQuan Thompson, a product of Lake Mead Christian Academy who finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds.
The game, which featured eight ties and seven lead chances, see-sawed back and forth after that until the Red Storm pulled ahead by six points, 64-58, on a rebound by Louis Garrett with 8:12 remaining. The Rebels cut it to 71-70 when point guard Deville Smith stole the ball and drove for a layup but UNLV failed to convert on three different opportunities down the stretch, the final one a 3-point attempt by guard Daquan Cook from the top of the key that was blocked by Kimball Payne at the buzzer.
“I was very disappointed with our intensity on the defensive end,” Rice said. “If you look at the stats, it’s pretty obvious that that’s a pretty good recipe for getting beat – when you have 13 assists and 20 turnovers and go 16-for-30 from the line and shoot way too many (19) 3-point shots in the first half.”
The loss of Dejean-Jones no doubt played a key factor in the team’s offensive and defensive struggles after an impressive start.
“When Bryce left, the perimeter defense kind of fell apart,” Birch, who finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks and seven turnovers, said. “He’s the best perimeter defender on our team.”
“Any time you lose an all-conference player it’s a major blow,” Rice said. “But at the same time we have other guys that we have confidence in. It did give other guys an opportunity to step up and it gave me an opportunity to see other younger guys in a quality-minutes role. Never excuses here. We’re going to have games that Bryce is in foul trouble or guys are hurt or whatever. We’ve got to step up and play better.”
To that end, the Rebels will be up bright and early Saturday morning to study the game tape and shoot free throws. The team will return to practice later that night.
“We’ve got to get better in a hurry,” Rice said. “We’ve got a game that’s for real (against Portland State) next Friday.”
REBEL NOTES: Rice said that the NCAA informed Eric Toliver, the school’s associate athletic director for compliance, on Friday that a formal decision on the hardship transfer waiver for guard Kevin Olekaibe would come on Monday. … The Rebels were also without freshman guard Kendall Smith, who sprained his ankle during the team’s shootaround on Friday and was too sore to play. … A tough debut for JC transfer Jelan Kendrick who played 31 minutes and scored five points on 2-of-14 shooting and missed a driving layup with two seconds to go that would have given the Rebels the lead. … Besides Birch, the Rebels also got a double-double from UConn transfer Roscoe Smith (10 points, 12 rebounds). … UNLV had a 16-game exhibition win streak snapped. The team’s last previous exhibition loss was in 2001 to Global Sports, 73-69.