As far as sources of motivation go, Dave Rice would probably prefer it come from a situation that doesn’t involve his center looking like he’s ready to fight anybody in the Mack not wearing red and white. If that’s what it takes, though, then just ride the wave.
No. 21 UNLV was never in danger of losing to Air Force in Saturday’s 68-58 victory. The Rebels (24-6, 8-4) took a 12-point lead with a little less than eight minutes to play in the first half and the Falcons (13-13, 3-9) never got closer than 10 for the rest of the game. But as the second half wore on, an already ugly game continued to muddle along.
With 7:46 remaining and UNLV leading 50-39, the teams had already combined for 40 turnovers. Shortly thereafter, the Rebels found a spark.
With about seven minutes left, Air Force’s Chase Kammerer tripped UNLV’s Brice Massamba under the Falcons’ basket while the rest of the players hustled to the other end of the court. Kammerer was whistled for a foul, but Massamba took offense to something he heard from the Air Force bench, getting in the face of Kammerer and then, while being restrained, trying to go and confront the other Falcons. After conferring, the referees called Massamba for a technical foul.
Massamba wouldn’t say what he heard, but it clearly fired him up enough to take on all comers.
That’s kind of how the rest of the Rebels felt, too.
“The thing that I was most proud of them was that they had Brice’s back,” Rice said. “… Our guys responded and played as hard and as together as we had all day.”
After Air Force hit both of the technical fouls, UNLV went on a 7-0 run in under a minute, capped by an Oscar Bellfield 3-pointer, that put the Rebels ahead by 17.
The emotion in the building changed a bit after Massamba went to the bench following the technical, his fourth personal of the game. Again, UNLV never looked to be in danger here. But that shift brought out some fire that had been buried under turnovers and half-court sets for most of the second half.
“It definitively hyped us up,” sophomore forward Mike Moser said.
Moser finished with seven points, 11 rebounds and six steals. Senior small forward Chace Stanback led the way with 21 points and eight rebounds.
Stanback, who was wearing a little bit different type of brace on his injured right knee, scored the first points of the game with a 3-pointer. It was the 11th time this season that he’s taken UNLV’s first or second shot of the game, and as evidenced over and over this season, he’s extremely effective when he gets going early in games.
Junior guard Anthony Marshall finished with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. He also had six turnovers, as did Stanback.
UNLV commits more turnovers than most teams because of the pace at which it wants to play, but 21 is too many no matter how you’re trying to play. Rice said that a lot of them on Saturday were the result of too many passes in transition. As far as turnovers go, that’s better than sitting still and getting the ball stolen.
Still, that’s one of the only negatives UNLV can take away from the game.
The Rebels did their part, and thanks to New Mexico's loss at TCU, UNLV is once again in first place and in control of its own destiny. And now they have one more chance to get things right on the road in conference play.
Try that for motivation.