ray brewer:

Instant Analysis: This was UNLV’s most important win of the season

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Brandon McCoy (44) dunks during a game against San Diego State at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018.

Sat, Jan 27, 2018 (9:15 p.m.)

Supporters, as witnessed by the regular comment posters on this site, are frequently impatient with the UNLV basketball program.

They want the energy and excitement of tonight’s 88-78 win against rival San Diego State to be a regular occurrence.

They can recall postseason runs for their beloved squad, whether that was Tark’s teams in the 1980s and ‘90s or Lon’s teams in the mid-2000s, and wonder why can’t it happen again — OK, happen every season.

They are teased with the top recruiting classes, fancy facilities and flashes of good play, and instantly think an outcome like tonight’s win could be the start of a streak of good play.

It’s just not that easy. Tonight, after all, was UNLV's first win in more than four seasons against the Aztecs.

The UNLV program isn’t where anyone wants it to be, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get there. If we learned anything tonight, it’s the Rebels — when they play hard — have some solid pieces. But those pieces are still developing, which has yielded the inconsistent play.

Freshmen Tervell Beck, Amauri Hardy and Mbacke Diong combined to play 55 minutes tonight, and each have shown much promise. Let’s not forget this is Marvin Menzies’ true first season. Last year didn’t count because he was hired so late in the process, meaning he’s still try to put his stamp on the rebuild.

Here are some more observations from the game:

What the game means: You can argue this was the Rebels most important win of the season. Just like that, the losing streak against San Diego State is over. Just like that, the three-game losing streak at home is also snapped. Just like that, the Rebels have some swagger back. When Shakur Juiston plays like this — 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds — the Rebels are tough to beat. Same for Jordan Johnson, who impacted the game with 14 points and four assists to break out of a minor slump. UNLV had four players score in double figures, didn’t flinch late win San Diego State trimmed its 13-point lead to five points, and played with emotion they have recently lacked.

Crowd strong tonight, right?: By no means was tonight’s attendance similar to the sellouts of six or so years ago when rival San Diego State came to town. But tonight’s crowd of 11,137 was solid, everything from many in the student section to patches fans in the upper bowl, and rapper Lil Jon doing the ceremonial “Lights, please” to start the pregame fireworks show. I’m told Lil Jon is popular. One of the many challenges the Rebels face in growing its fan base, or getting its fan base to frequently attend games, is providing a winning product. Well, UNLV got its first league home win in four attempts tonight, and they put on a show against a notable opponent in the process. Time will tell if it resonates with supporters.

Beck makes first start: Beck had five points in 29 minutes in his starting lineup debut. He replaced Kris Clyburn. This UNLV season should have always been about getting the freshmen quality opportunities, meaning more minutes for Beck is a good thing. But it’s a delicate balance. Hardy and Diong also need as much court time as possible, but it can’t come at cost of not having the best lineup on the floor. Remember, for as inconsistent of the Rebels have been in league play — just a 4-4 record — the Mountain West tournament will be wide open.

A look at the box score: UNLV had the lead for all but 1:26 of the game. ...After having just six assists in a loss Wednesday at Fresno State, the Rebels had 18 assists on 33 made fields. ...Jovan Mooring had 12 points in 26 minutes and Brandon McCoy had 21 points and seven rebounds. Juiston and McCoy combined to shot 19-of-25. ...Hardy had three points — a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock in the second half to help secure the UNLV win. ...The Rebels made 59-percent of its field goal attempts.

Up next: The Rebels at 8 p.m. Wednesday host San Jose State in what should be a victory. While the Spartans are improved, and by no means a sure-thing win, they have just a 3-17 overall record. More important, the Rebels are jockeying for position in the Mountain West standings, and can’t afford the black-eye of a loss to San Jose State if they want to secure a first-day bye in next month’s league tournament.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 702-990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at twitter.com/raybrewer21

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