On a night when two UNLV players arrived late for the team bus, Deville Smith showed up early and finally showed off his skills.
Smith used his speed to run a fast-break attack while also putting on a long-range shooting exhibition that triggered the Rebels’ highest-scoring game of the season.
“I’m just so amped up to go out there and play,” he said. “It feels great to contribute to the win.”
Smith came off the bench to score 21 points as UNLV blew by Santa Clara for a 92-71 victory Sunday in a Las Vegas Classic semifinal at Orleans Arena.
The Rebels (7-4) advanced to face Mississippi State, which defeated South Florida 71-66 in the first semifinal, in the championship at 7:30 p.m. today.
Ironically, Smith played his freshman year at Mississippi State before transferring to Southwest Mississippi Community College, where he caught the eye of UNLV coach Dave Rice.
In the preseason, Rice anointed Smith the Rebels’ starting point guard, but demoted the 6-foot junior by the third game and promoted freshman Kendall Smith to run the team.
“This is why we recruited Deville. He was explosive, and he played with great confidence,” Rice said. “That’s the guy we watched and wanted to be a big part of our program.
“Kendall is our starting point guard, and Deville is a very capable backup. I’m always going to play the guy who’s got the hot hand.”
It didn’t take long for Deville Smith to heat up and burn the Broncos (6-6). Smith, who had not scored in double figures all season, hit his first four 3-point attempts and had 14 points by the half. Understandably, he was not highlighted as a shooting threat on Santa Clara’s scouting report.
“He definitely came out and played well. He did a good job of making some open shots,” said Broncos senior guard Evan Roquemore, a former Foothill High School star. “You have to respect every player.”
The Rebels led 47-38 at the half and allowed an 11-point advantage to dwindle to 51-49 at the 17:20 mark, when Roquemore made a 3 from the top.
But two layups by Deville Smith and two Bryce Dejean-Jones jumpers put UNLV on top 68-56 with 11:24 to go.
Dejean-Jones and junior forward Khem Birch did not start as punishment for being five minutes late to the team bus.
“You just can’t be late for the team bus,” Rice said. “We’re playing for the championship of the Las Vegas Classic.”
Once they got on the floor, Dejean-Jones and Birch played as if winning a minor eight-team tournament was a serious priority.
Junior forward Roscoe Smith finished with 15 points, Birch had 14 and Dejean-Jones and Jelan Kendrick each added 13 for UNLV, which shot a season-high 60.7 percent (34 of 56) from the field and totaled 48 points in the paint.
“We were trying to do a good job of rebounding and stopping them in transition, but they got it going in the second half,” said Roquemore, who shot 3-for-12 and was held to nine points in his homecoming.
Jared Brownridge’s 22 points led the Broncos, who also got 14 points from Brandon Clark and 13 from Jerry Brown.
Rice pulled Kendall Smith, who had four turnovers, and stuck with Deville Smith when it was obvious which point guard had the hot hand.
Deville Smith was 3-for-13 from 3-point range and averaging 4.0 points through his first nine games.
As a freshman at Mississippi State, he scored a career-high 25 points in a game at Arkansas, but was waiting for a breakout performance at UNLV.
“I just stayed relaxed and stayed patient,” he said, “and I knew my time would come like it did tonight.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.