After back-to-back tough losses to Arizona State and Illinois, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were definitely in need of a nice pick-me-up.
Welcome to Las Vegas the UT Martin Skyhawks.
UT Martin, an Ohio Valley Conference team with losses to teams like Lipscomb and Jackson State, tasted better than a Thanksgiving turkey dinner for Dave Rice’s squad who feasted to the tune of a 85-55 victory before an announced crowd of 12,397.
Roscoe Smith had his fourth double-double of the year, scoring 13 points and grabbing a game-high 19-rebounds, Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 16 points and dished off a season-high seven assists and Khem Birch (13), Kevin Olekaibe (11) and Jelan Kendrick (11) also scored in double-figures for UNLV (3-3), which shot 55.6 percent from the floor and outrebounded the Skyhawks (2-8) by a 46-32 margin.
In other words, a perfect confidence-booster for a team that plays its next game on the road at No. 4 Arizona, which just knocked off Duke, 72-66 on Friday night.
“Obviously a good and necessary win for us,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “I think any time when you drop a few games, particularly when you lose games at home, it certainly has an affect on your team in terms of confidence.”
“It feels really good,” Dejean-Jones said. “We were all devastated by those losses.”
“This game definitely helped out confidence a lot,” Smith added.
UT Martin actually hung with the Rebels for the first 12 minutes. The game was tied, 23-23, when Olekaibe sank a 3-pointer to start a 16-4 Rebel run en route to a 39-27 halftime lead.
UNLV then had a 15-2 run to start the second half capped by a layup by Dejean-Jones. The Rebels would go on to lead by as many as 33 points after that.
“I thought our focus coming out at halftime was terrific and showed growth in our program,” Rice said.
It doesn’t figure to be quite so easy next time out when the Rebels travel to Arizona for a Saturday afternoon game that will be broadcast by ESPN2.
“It’s a huge opportunity against a team that just beat Duke on a neutral floor, but it’s a team that we feel we have an opportunity to go in and compete with,” Rice said.
“We’re an underdog in some people’s eyes,” Smith said. “We’ve got confident guys, you know what I’m saying? … We’re definitely not intimidated by them at all. Shockingly, they’re probably intimidated by us. … We’re definitely ready for the challenge.”
Yep, looks like the Rebels have their confidence back.
For some video highlights from the game, check out Barry Wong’s Saturday sports wrap-up below: