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UNLV dominated by North Carolina in first game of Maui Invitational

After a hot start, UNLV fell apart and North Carolina settled down, brought the intensity, and took care of the Runnin’ Rebels easily. 

Montana State v UNLV Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The Runnin’ Rebels could not miss in the early minutes in the first half against the 14th ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the opening game of the Maui International, but the Tar Heels showed that they are the better team as they easily took care of the Runnin’ Rebels through the rest of the game in a 78-51 victory.

“As the game wore on, they picked up the pressure,” head coach T.J. Otzelberger said after the game. “They brought some presses, some traps, denied entries more on the wings, and we did not do the job we needed to do to be stubborn to get open. We did not cut well enough to put ourselves in great position and what it did eventually was it pushed us out on the floor and we were running our offense at 35-40 feet, which is a challenge.

“We’ve got to do a better job at using our competitive spirit on every cut, every catch, every pass, especially against a team with the size and length of North Carolina,” Otzelberger continued.

UNLV jumped out to an early 13-0 lead thanks to hot shooting from them and cold shooting from North Carolina. The Runnin’ Rebels hit five of its first six shots, including three of three from three-point range, while North Carolina missed its first eight shots. The Runnin’ Rebels were able to build its early success on offense from its success on the defensive side, as they played with more pace and flow.

But that early Runnin’ Rebel lead would not last long as the 14th ranked Tar Heels made six of its next eight shots and cut into UNLV’s lead quickly. North Carolina closed the half on a 37-17 run to take the lead at halftime 37-30. As the game wore on, the Tar Heels brought the pressure, controlled the boards and were able to turn the Runnin’ Rebels over.

“They started to have more pressure, bringing us out, 35-40 feet out on the court and they just started to key in more, and we did not have much ball movement,” junior guard Bryce Hamilton said. “We have to get a little bit more ball movement, as the game went by we got out of that a little bit. We got to stick to the game plan.”

The second half was not even close, North Carolina outscored UNLV 41-21.The Tar Heels controlled the glass against the smaller Runnin’ Rebels, holding a 54-35 advantage on the boards. The size, length, and depth of North Carolina was too much for the young and inexperienced UNLV team that lacks the size and length North Carolina possesses. The Tar Heels look to wear down teams physically and go to the boards. They were able to push into the paint by being the aggressor and carving out space that allowed them to get rebounds and wear down UNLV.

“They’ve got waves of guys, they go five or six deep on the front line with guys that can score and be physical there...They’ve got a lot of bodies and they keep them fresh and they keep throwing them at you. It does have that effect where it wears you down,” Otzelberger said.

Bryce Hamilton led UNLV with 15 points, he was shut down in the second half with only four points and made two of nine shots. Caleb Grill was the only other Runnin’ Rebel in double digits with 10 points. After hitting its first four three-pointers, UNLV went 4 of 33 the rest of the game, finishing at 22 percent and 29 percent overall on field goal percentage. David Jenkins had another rough night, scoring only four points on one of nine shooting

Otzelberger said defensively, UNLV had a lot of success when they were able to double in the post, which is something they have to do with not a lot of bigs on the team. When UNLV was able to bring in the secondary defender, they shrunk the floor and created disruptions that helped create some plays for their offense. When UNLV does that they will have to bring a sense of urgency and stick to the game plan throughout.

“It wasn’t that the plan was not working, it was we were not executing the plan...I think it’s more about continuing to stay the course with that plan over the long haul because I thought it was effective when we did that,” Otzelberger said.

UNLV is now 0-2 after its opening game loss to Montana State at home. They will face the loser of Alabama and Stanford at 6:30 pm PT on ESPN 2, the game can be heard on ESPN Las Vegas 1100 AM/100.9 FM.