Anthony Marshall is the first to acknowledge that he needs to improve his outside shot.
“I’ve put in a lot of time shooting,” the 6-foot-3 junior guard from Mojave High School, who entered the season shooting just 15.9 percent from 3-point range, said. “I can’t tell you how much. A lot of days and a lot of hours.”
That hard work paid off in a big way Wednesday night during UNLV’s 65-54 win over UTEP at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Marshall scored 10 of his season-high 20 points in the final 5:08, including a pair of 3-pointers, to help propel a game-ending 16-6 scoring spurt by the Runnin’ Rebels (10-2), who struggled most of the night to overcome the slowdown tactics of the Miners (2-5).
UNLV was clinging to a 49-48 lead when Marshall drained his first trey. His added another wide-open 3-pointer 71 seconds later to extend the Rebels’ lead to eight, 57-49, which pretty much sealed the win. He also sank a 19-footer from the top of the key down the final stretch.
“They were daring Anthony to shoot,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “Those are three game-winning plays that he made. If they’re not going to guard him, he needs to shoot open shots like he did. He was big for us down the stretch.”
Marshall, who was just 1 of 23 behind the arc (4.3 percent) as a freshman, came into the game having made only 5 of 18 3-point attempts (27.8 percent) and was 0 for 4 in the first half, including an air ball. But Rice and his teammates encouraged him to continue shooting.
“We just want him to play with confidence,” Rice said. “I believe that if we didn’t continue to instill that confidence he wouldn’t have made those three big baskets down the stretch.”
“My teammates just stuck with me,” Marshall said. “They’ve got the most confidence in me, the most faith in me. They got me through to the second half and we got the win.”
The Rebels also got big contributions off the bench from guard Justin Hawkins (12 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals) and Carlos Lopez (11 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks) to help offset poor offensive performances by Chace Stanback (5 points, 2 of 8 FGs) and Mike Moser (6 points but 11 rebounds).
UNLV led only 24-21 at halftime after connecting on only 9 of 29 shots (31.0 percent) but warmed up in the second half, shooting 57.1 percent (12 of 21) including 3 of 6 3-pointers.
The Rebels admitted they rushed shots early, overanxious after playing defense for 30 seconds on each Miners’ possession.
“It’s a sign of respect when a team that has as good of players that UTEP has comes in and holds the ball for 30 seconds per possession,” Rice said. “It puts tremendous pressure on our defense, and we didn’t do a good enough job executing on the offensive end in the first half. But we were able to count on our defense.”
The Rebels finished with 10 steals and forced 20 turnovers leading to a 16-10 edge in points off turnovers.
“We’re just going to have to learn how to play these games because it seems like teams are really concerned by our offensive transition,” Rice said.
“Games like this are really going to benefit us down the stretch,” Marshall added. “You learn from it and just get better.”
The Rebels next game is in Chicago on Saturday afternoon against undefeated Illinois (10-0), the team that embarrassed them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March. That 2 p.m. (PST) contest will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
By Steve Guiremand