Live blog: UNLV finishes off St. Katherine in exhibition win

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Steve Marcus

UNLV Rebels forward Devin Tillis (30) takes a shot during the Rebels’ season opener against Montana State at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. Tillis as called for an offensive foul on the play.

Published Tue, Jan 12, 2021 (2 a.m.)

Updated Tue, Jan 12, 2021 (3:45 p.m.)

UNLV did what it wanted to for the first 35 minutes against St. Katherine, then courteously took its foot off the gas down the stretch of a 95-34 win at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday afternoon.

T.J. Otzelberger scheduled the this game mostly to get 40 additional minutes of live reps for his inexperienced squad, and they looked fairly sharp (or as sharp as you can look against an NAIA opponent). Mbacke Diong led the way with 18 points, while David Jenkins scored 17 and Bryce Hamilton chipped in 15.

UNLV will now turn its attention to its weekend home series against New Mexico. The scarlet and gray dropped both games at Colorado State to open Mountain West play and mostly used this hastily-scheduled St. Katherine game to get back up to speed after a long layoff due to COVID-19 issues within the program.

Ten players got court time for UNLV, including freshmen Donavan Yap, Nick Blake and Reece Brown, who combined for six points. 

UNLV builds 74-23 lead over poor St. Katherine

The UNLV defense has really clamped down on poor St. Katherine in the second half, leading the scarlet and gray to open a 74-23 advantage with 7:37 remaining.

St. Katherine missed its first 13 shots of the second half and didn't notch its first field goal until after more than 11 minutes had passed. UNLV, meanwhile, canned 9-of-16 during that stretch to open a lead as large as 51 points. If there were fans in the building, they'd approve of UNLV's effort against a far inferior opponent.

The trio of David Jenkins (17 points), Mbacke Diong (16) and Bryce Hamilton (15) has done most of the work on offense for UNLV.

UNLV blowing out St. Katherine at halftime

Mbacke Diong is playing the game of his life on the offensive end, as he's got 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting, and UNLV has taken a 49-20 lead into the locker room at halftime.

St. Katherine simply has no one to match up with the 6-foot-11 Diong, who has done all of his damage in the paint. Diong even showed his open-court skills by stealing a pass in the frontcourt and going the length of the floor for a breakaway layup.

Unfortunately for UNLV fans, Diong isn't going to produce like this against Division I teams. But the good news is that UNLV's shooting stroke appears to be locked in, with Bryce Hamilton and David Jenkins combining to make 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Jenkins has 14 points while Hamilton has scored eight.

Marvin Coleman played 10 minutes off the bench in the first half and appeared to be up to speed. He scored three points, handed out two assists and recorded one steal during his time on the floor.

UNLV builds early lead against St. Katherine

Midway through the first half UNLV is doing what it should be doing against St. Katherine, as T.J. Otzelberger's team has built a 28-15 lead with 7:35 left before halftime.

UNLV has had no trouble scoring against its overmatched NAIA opponent, as they've connected on 11-of-18 from the field and 3-of-5 from 3-point range. David Jenkins connected on two early 3-pointers and has a game-high eight points, while Mbacke Diong has cleaned up in the paint for six points on 3-of-5 shooting.

Marvin Coleman came off the bench and has three points and a steal in six minutes.

So far this game has been as advertised: An opportunity for UNLV to stretch its legs and get some live reps against a non-threatening opponent.

Marvin Coleman returns for UNLV basketball

UNLV missed Marvin Coleman in a pair of one-possession losses at Colorado State, but the junior point guard appears to be ready to make his return today against St. Katherine.

Coleman has passed the medical protocols and is on the court warming up with his teammates now. Though he is averaging just 6.8 points and 3.6 assists this season, Coleman provides invaluable leadership and defensive communication, areas where UNLV faltered in their narrow losses to CSU.

Freshman forward Devin Tillis is not on the floor, however. Tillis missed both CSU games and it looks like UNLV will be without him again today. It won't make much of a difference against an NAIA opponent like St. Katherine, but T.J. Otzelberger is going to want Tillis' shooting and passing back in the lineup sooner rather than later.

UNLV hoping to gain experience against St. Katherine

UNLV basketball needs a win right now in the worst way. But what the team needs even more than a tally in the W column is actual court time against a real opponent.

Head coach T.J. Otzelberger is hopeful they’ll get both this afternoon, when UNLV takes on St. Katherine in a hastily scheduled home game. At 1-6 and coming off back-to-back losses at Colorado State, the players could certainly use the confidence boost that comes with stomping an NAIA opponent; Otzelberger’s emphasis, however, seems to be less on running up the score and more on getting his players some extended minutes together.

That’s why he added St. Katherine and Benedictine Mesa to the schedule last week.

“It gives us a chance to get another game in and give guys some minutes,” Otzelberger said. “Guys like Reece Brown and Edo Del Cadia, who are playing more minutes for us, they need those game minutes.”

As strange as it sounds, UNLV is running out of time to build on-court chemistry, mostly due to the 34-day gap between games because of the COVID-19 outbreak that ravaged the program. The team is right at the midpoint of the initial 2020-21 schedule, with only 14 conference games remaining on the slate. And yet, newcomers like Brown and Del Cadia have logged just 35 and 58 minutes on the season, respectively. Devin Tillis, a freshman who was expected to play a key role in the frontcourt, has played 51 minutes.

The games against St. Katherine and Benedictine Mesa (Jan. 21) should give Otzelberger a chance to put his less-experienced players through the paces in real time.

And even the guys with the most experience, like junior guard David Jenkins, should benefit from additional time on the floor with teammates, considering they’ve played just seven games to this point.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Jenkins said. “I feel like it’s another opportunity to get our legs under us, another opportunity to grow, build our team chemistry and camaraderie.”

The St. Katherine contest will also kick off a six-game home stand for UNLV, and though the season began two months ago, this current UNLV team has almost no experience in the Thomas & Mack Center.

“We’ve played one home game at this point,” Otzelberger said. “Just having the opportunity to play another game at home before we start a home stretch in league play is really important, so guys get used to playing at the Mack and our facilities.”

Mike Grimala can be reached at 702-948-7844 or [email protected]. Follow Mike on Twitter at twitter.com/mikegrimala.

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