Poyser Powers Rebels Past Rams, 87-80
There’s no worse way to lose a game than blowing a late lead then fouling to give a team the go-ahead winning free throw as the clock expires. Losses like those can leave a sour taste in one’s mouth and did so for one freshman guard for the Rebels after their Jan. 6 loss to Colorado State at Moby Arena.
“Every loss hurts when you’re a competitor so it just added a lot of fuel to your fire,” said Jalen Poyser, who was the difference maker for the Rebels tonight.
Defense and athleticism is what UNLV used to win all their games this season and it was no different tonight for a team that’s down to the grittiness and heart of seven players from what turned into turbulent basketball season for the Rebels.
The CSU loss resonated for UNLV all week at practice and it showed as the Rebels never lost the lead en route to a 87-80 win against the Rams on Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Poyser tallied new career-highs in about every way possible with 19 points, six assists and five rebounds during 30 minutes of play.
“I saw a lot of opportunities to go score and I made the best of it,” he said.
The freshman hasn’t had a double-digit game since UNLV played at CSU, where he scored 12 then went on a hiatus until tonight’s game.
The Rams played a sloppy first half, shooting just 31 percent from the field and the Rebels capitalized on their mistakes, converting 11 points off of 11 Rams turnovers. Being the best 3-point shooting team in the conference looked to be problematic for the Rebels, however, UNLV did a good job switching up their defense and contesting the Rams outside shooting to just four 3s in the first half and seven altogether to hold a 4-point halftime lead.
“It’s the most consistent we’ve been in terms of guarding every possession,” head coach Todd Simon said. “We stayed on attack.”
Senior guard Jerome Seagears ignited UNLV’s offense to start the second half with a 6-0 run off back-to-back steals that resulted in a breakaway layup and highlight dunk, courtesy of freshman forward Derrick Jones Jr. The Rams brought it within 5 but the Rebels used another 6-0 run that pushed UNLV’s lead to double figures.
Foul trouble in the second half slowed down the Rebels’ front court as the Rams pushed for a late comeback but Jones Jr. and sophomore forward Dwayne Morgan played smart down the stretch while having four fouls, combining for 21 points, 12 rebounds and four notable blocks. UNLV is learning to play aggressively inside without their bigs always on the floor and that showed tonight. The guards carved the lanes and attacked the rim while the bigs bodied up and the team was successful getting to the line, shooting 73.3 percent.
“Nobody fouling out is a huge deal,” Simon said. “Those guys provided a rim presence for us and bothered their shots.”
UNLV was up by 10 with 3:13 to play, but the unsuccessful management of leads for the Rebels in the past didn’t transcend in their play tonight. The team made a number of big baskets down the stretch including a dunk by senior guard Ike Nwamu, who was one of the five Rebels scoring in double figures, to seal an important win for UNLV. The Rebs are just half a game behind the Rams for sixth place in the Mountain West Conference.
“I don’t believe in the losing,” Poyser said. “So it kind of hurt us when we lost our first game, we had to come out stronger than we did the first time we played them and as a team, we played well.”
UNLV (15-11, 6-7) got solid contributions from everyone and is now able to build some momentum riding their two-game win streak as the team will head to Colorado Springs to take on Air Force (12-14, 3-10) after beating them at home, 100-64 on Jan. 16.
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