In just their third game together, Khem Birch and Anthony Bennett showed what UNLV was missing when they were apart.
Bennett, a 6-foot-8-inch forward who has emerged as arguably the best freshman in the nation, and Birch, a 6-9 sophomore center who became eligible Monday, combined to make a big impact Saturday night.
And that's an understatement.
"We're two different types of players, but it's a good mixture," Birch said. "He's more offense, and I'm more defense."
Bennett scored 21 points, and Birch did almost everything else while totaling 20 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots to help the 21st-ranked Rebels pull away for an 89-74 victory over Canisius at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"It's only my third game, so hopefully it can get better," said Birch, who shot 7-for-8 from the field in 29 minutes off the bench.
Katin Reinhardt added 14 points, and Bryce Dejean-Jones and Justin Hawkins finished with 12 apiece for UNLV, which goes into the Christmas break at 11-1.
Even without injured junior forward Mike Moser, the team's second-leading scorer, the Rebels put together one of their most complete performances of the season.
"We saw more than glimpses of how good a basketball team we have the potential to be," coach Dave Rice said. "We were focused and we were ready to go."
Bennett shot 8-for-12 and threw down an array of highlight-reel dunks as UNLV connected on 59.6 percent (34 of 57) of its shots.
The Rebels were up to the challenge on defense, too - not an easy task against Golden Griffins guards Billy Baron, Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa.
Baron scored 18 of his 30 points in the first half, and Canisius (8-3) trailed 57-54 after Washington's layup with 12:50 left.
"I kind of felt the game slipping. Canisius was on a run and getting some momentum," Hawkins said. "Coach said somebody had to make a play. When I checked in, I felt like I had to do something on the defensive end, and it translated to offense."
UNLV answered with a 21-6 run led in large part by Hawkins, whose three-point play stretched the lead to 78-60 with 6:29 remaining. All of Hawkins' 12 points came during the stretch that blew open the game.
"If we need a defensive stop or a steal, Justin gives us that. If we need a big basket, he can give us that," Rice said. "He's so important every game."
Baron shot 10-for-16 from the field, hitting four of Canisius' 13 3-pointers, and also had six assists in 39 minutes.
"That's a terrific basketball team. They never gave up, and they shoot the ball from all over the court," Rice said.
Washington finished with 17 points while Sosa and Jordan Heath each scored 11 for Canisius, which was off an upset win at Temple.
But Baron and the other hard-charging guards had several shots altered or swatted by Birch, who defended the rim with long arms and great leaping ability.
"If you're late or your guy is driving by you, you can see Khem coming and let him block the shot," Reinhardt said.
Birch, a former McDonald's All-American who transferred from Pittsburgh in January, averaged 7.5 points and had just one block in his first two games against Texas-El Paso and Northern Iowa.
"When you've got a shot blocker like Khem, he has a great effect on the game," Rice said.
"We're playing with more confidence on the offensive end. Teams are going to have to shade to Bennett and shade to Birch, and it makes us all better."
Senior point guard Anthony Marshall added six points and eight assists for the Rebels, who next play Dec. 29 at North Carolina.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.