The UNLV Runnin Rebels took advantage of 12 first half turnovers to roll the SMU Mustangs, leading wire-to-wire en route to a 67-53 victory. UNLV led by as many as 28 points in the second half, before sloppy UNLV play, and a late SMU run cut the lead to 12 with 1:12 to go. UNLV tightened up on both sides of the ball in that final minute to prevent a sloppier finish. More details after the jump...
As has been the case on offense, UNLV had a variety of contributors, getting double digits from 4 different players. The leading scorers were Anthony Marshall and Tre'Von Wilis, each with 12 points. Marshall was arguably the player of the game with a 10 point first half that really helped the Rebels put SMU away early. UNLV road a hot shooting touch in the first half to blow the door open rather quickly. UNLV finished the game shooting 50% from 3-point territory. When UNLV is hitting at that kind of clip from beyond the arc, there are very few teams that can stop them.
Making it all the more difficult for SMU was the stifling defense of the Rebels. UNLV applied a consistent pressure throughout the first half that SMU struggled to break through. SMU turned the ball over 21 times, with the 12 first half turnovers really turning into their undoing. SMU combined that with rather hideous shooting for 3/4 of the game, finishing at 36.4% overall and 13.3% from the 3-point line. For much of the game SMU appeared to be literally getting run out of the building. UNLV set such a fast pace that the Mustangs really couldn't even get their offense set and running. They spent much of the first half either turning over the ball, or chucking up shots that never had much of a chance. SMU was held to 19 first half points and could not recover.
The Mustang did give UNLV a bit of a scare in the second half, cutting the lead to 12 late in the game. While it was too late to spring the upset, Lon Kruger could not be happy with his team's lackadaisical performance over the final 6 or so minutes of the game. Nonetheless, UNLV took care of business and won a game that never was close after the first minute.
Up Next: UNLV awaits the winner of the final game of the evening between the host Hawaii Warriors and Charleston Cougars. Hawaii plays relatively well at home, but UNLV would likely be favored over either team. The winner of that subsequent match (tomorrow night on ESPN2) will face the winner of St. Mary's and USC in the final of the tournament on Christmas Day.