Deville Smith was in no rush as many of his teammates scattered quickly from the Orleans Arena Monday night to catch flights home for Christmas after winning the Las Vegas Classic with a convincing 82-66 victory over Mississippi State.
That’s because the Jackson, Miss., native said he will be staying in Las Vegas over the holiday. But he will have some company – a large MVP trophy.
“It felt great,” the soft-spoken 6-foot junior said of winning the award. “I really can’t put it in words. It means so much to me.”
Especially since the championship win came over Mississippi State. Smith began his career in Starkville in 2010-11 and played in 26 games, averaging 4.2 points including a 25-point outburst at Arkansas.
(STORY CONTINUES BELOW)
But Smith transferred to Southwest Mississippi Community College for his sophomore year and eventually signed with UNLV.
It hadn’t been the most spectacular of starts for the junior point guard, who was hampered the past month by a strained MCL in his right knee. He entered the final two games of the tourney averaging four points and having connected on only 3-of-13 3-pointers. But he turned that around dramatically, averaging 18 points and five assists in the two wins while connecting on 7-of-12 3-pointers.
“I feel good about coming out here and winning the tournament,” Smith, who finished with 15 points and five assists Monday, said when asked about being named MVP. “I give respect to Mississippi State because they played good and I really have to give respect to my team because without them I would never would have held this trophy.”
UNLV (8-4) was trailing Mississippi State (9-3), 10-5, when Deville Smith replaced starter Kendall Smith at point guard. When he went back to the bench the Rebels held a 29-16 lead and Deville had 11 points, including three 3-pointers.
The Rebels, who also got big games from senior guard Kevin Olekaibe (game-high 17 points, 4-of-8 3-pointers), forward Roscoe Smith (12 points, 12 rebounds) and forward Khem Birch (11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks), extended the lead to 42-24 at halftime and led by as many as 24 points midway through the second half. Birch and Roscoe Smith also were picked to the all-tourney team.
UNLV will take a five-game win streak with it into the Christmas break. The Rebels have one more nonconference tune-up – Dec. 28 vs. Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. at the Thomas & Mack Center – before opening Mountain West play on New Year’s Day at Fresno State.
VIDEO: DEVILLE SMITH ON BEING MVP:
VIDEO: RUNNIN’ REBELS PICK UP THEIR TROPHY