In the middle of a stretch of four games in six days, UNLV junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones is nowhere near exhausted. He rather would play than practice.
“I love having games all the time,” he said. “With back-to-back games like this, you stay excited.”
What the Rebels participated in Friday night resembled a scrimmage, but at least it was one they won with ease.
Junior forwards Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith each scored 15 points, and Dejean-Jones had 14 as UNLV crushed Sacred Heart 82-50 in the Las Vegas Classic.
The Pioneers (2-10) might be the least talented team to visit the Thomas &Mack Center this season, and that includes both Division II opponents the Rebels struggled with in early November.
Although the scheduled has weakened, allowing UNLV (6-4) to roll to three consecutive victories, Birch said the lopsided scores of the past week are not just due to the lower level of competition.
“At the beginning of the year, if we played this team, I don’t think we would have won by more than 10 points,” Birch said.
Dejean-Jones was quick to agree with the notion the Rebels would not have blown out Sacred Heart if the teams tangled earlier in the season.
“The way we were playing a month ago. … I see a lot of difference,” Dejean-Jones said. “We’re keeping the intensity up the whole game.”
The Rebels needed intensity for only a half, yet coach Dave Rice left his starters on the floor until about five minutes remained in a game they led by as many as 36 points.
“I think it’s always important to win games going away,” Rice said. “We wanted to increase the lead in the second half, and we did that.”
Phil Gaetano opened the scoring by hitting a 3-pointer, and then the curtain closed on the Sacred Heart highlight show. The Rebels reeled off the next 18 points against a team Rice politely called “scrappy and physical.”
Dejean-Jones, Kevin Olekaibe and Deville Smith made consecutive 3s to put UNLV up 31-9. Dejean-Jones contributed 11 points to a 42-15 halftime lead.
“We were just looking to get up 30 or 35,” Dejean-Jones said. “We got a lot of easy baskets in transition.”
The Rebels showed no urgency to capitalize on their huge size advantage.
“Coach didn’t say anything to us about passing inside tonight,” said Birch, who shot 6-for-8 from the field. “He just wanted us to play.”
UNLV played with a large lead most of the game despite a poor long-range shooting performance — 4-for-21 on 3-pointers, including 1-for-13 in the second half. Olekaibe shot 1-for-10, 1-for-7 on 3s, but it didn’t matter.
“We probably shot a few too many 3s in the second half,” Rice said. “But we’re playing better for longer stretches. Our team is just continuing to make progress. The defense was sensational.”
The Pioneers, led by Evan Kelley’s 14 points, shot 36 percent from the field and had 18 turnovers.
When Rice went to his bench, freshmen Chris Wood and Demetris Morant gave him something positive. Wood had five of the team’s 12 blocked shots, and Morant (two blocks) scored the first points of his college career on a layup with 25 seconds to go.
Freshman point guard Kendall Smith (nine points, four assists) continued to show progress with his ability to drive to the basket and run the offense.
The Rebels face Santa Clara in a Sunday semifinal at Orleans Arena, where the competition will be stronger.
“We need games like this,” Birch said. “We need to blow out teams.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.