Runnin’ Rebels grind out first win of Menzies era

It took five days longer than most expected but new UNLV basketball coach Marvin Menzies picked up his first victory on Tuesday night when the Runnin’ Rebels pulled away late for a 74-62 victory over UC Riverside at the Thomas & Mack Center.

UNLV (1-1), which was upset by South Alabama, 76-68, in its season opener on Friday, won despite blowing a 15-point second half lead. Guard Dikymbe Martin’s 3-pointer with 7:31 remaining gave the Highlanders (0-2), a 71-55 loser at Portland in their opener, a 50-49 lead.

But it didn’t last long. Senior forward Christian Jones came back with a 3-point play on UNLV’s next possession to start a 7-0 Runnin’ Rebel run that featured steals by guards Jalen Poyser and Jovan Mooring, and Mooring and Poyser hit back-to-back 3-pointers a few minutes later to boost the lead back up to 10.

“A little better feeling than last week,” Menzies said, “but a lot to work on.”

WHO STOOD OUT: Poyser, the 6-foot-4 sophomore from Findlay Prep via Malton, Ontario, Canada, was easily the player of the game. He finished with a career-high 20 points while connecting on 4-of-7 3-pointers, tied his career high with seven rebounds, had a game-high three steals to go along with two assists and one turnover.

Mooring was just 1-of-6 from the floor but reigning the NJCAA Division II Player of the Year from South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill, was clutch down the stretch, nailing a big 3-pointer, going 6-of-6 at the free throw line and coming up with a key steal. He finished with nine points, six assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes off the bench.

THE SKINNY: The Rebels still struggled at times defensively again defending dribble penetration and gave up 13 offensive rebounds which resulted in 19 second chance points and a 36-28 deficit in points in the paint. But the team’s superior size and depth seemed to wear the visitors down at the end and UNLV was outstanding at the free throw line, sinking 16-of-17 attempts (94.1 percent) for the game and 11-of-11 in the final eight minutes.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It feels good obviously. Hopefully the first of many.” – Marvin Menzies on picking up his first victory as UNLV’s 13th full-time head basketball coach.

(Check out game highlights in video below)

UP NEXT: After dispatching of the team picked to finish seventh in this year’s Big West media poll, the Runnin’ Rebels now take on the school that was picked sixth – Cal State Fullerton – on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center.

NOTABLE:The No. 11 jersey of former All-American and all-time leading scorer Eddie Owens was retired during a halftime ceremony. Owens scored 2,221 points from 1973-77 and was a key member on UNLV’s first Final Four squad in 1977. … Forwards Dwayne Morgan (hip) and Cheickna Dembele (foot) made their 2016-17 debuts after missing he opener with injuries. Morgan finished with six points on 3-of-11 shooting and grabbed three rebounds in 14 minutes of action while the 6-foot-11 Dembele had four points, three rebounds, a block and a steal in seven minutes on the floor. … Freshman forward Ben Coupet Jr., who didn’t play in the opener, was on the floor down the stretch and finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists in just 17 minutes of action. … Starting guard Kris Clyburn played despite being slowed by a sore knee and scored just four points on 2-of-8 shooting. … The Rebels, who had just 12 assists compared to 16 turnovers in the opener, finished with 17 turnovers and 15 turnovers against the Highlanders. … Junior Alex Larsson scored 14 points and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds to lead UC Riverside.

Click on graphics below for final stats

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