Marshall's solid play can't mask Rebels' need for point guard


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Anthony Marshall puts up numbers. He fills a basketball stat sheet. He is at his best in the biggest moments, when the lights are bright and the opposing arena is rocking and a play must be made.

UNLV needs the senior as much as any player on its roster.

He is that valuable.

But he is not a point guard, and in games such as the one the Rebels lost to North Carolina on Saturday, the lack of one can mean the difference between earning a significant road win or losing to a very good but not great team.

The Tar Heels prevailed 79-73 before 20,888 at the Smith Center because for most of the first half, they were aggressive and the Rebels were shell-shocked.

Might have been the crowd. Might have been all the banners hanging from the rafters. Might have been those familiar Carolina blue and white uniforms.

Might have been as simple as this: North Carolina brought the pressure, and UNLV folded under it the first 15 minutes.

The Rebels looked, played and acted tight.

The game was physical, and they were soft.

"A difficult place to play," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "To go on the road against a team with good players who are hyped up and ready to play ... I would be much more disappointed if the last 30 minutes would have been different. We will be better for the experience."

They will be as good this season as a collection of combo guards running the point make them. Marshall again was effective in several ways, collecting 15 points and eight assists to just one turnover. He played 37 minutes because he has to.

He is what UNLV has at point guard, but for the Rebels to win deep into March, everything as to be right offensively to overcome the things he and freshman Katin Reinhardt struggle at when running the offense.

Example: What a stat sheet doesn't tell you is how the Rebels lacked any cohesion when pressured from the outset Saturday, how they couldn't get the ball to the wing or make an entry pass inside or create much of anything off high-low looks. Theirs was a passive approach, and that begins with the point guard.

The Rebels had some early open looks and missed them but too often wasted possessions with turnovers. When your best player - Anthony Bennett - has his first shot blocked and his second be an air-ball 3-pointer, it's important to quickly get him an inside look and early confidence.

Didn't happen.

Point guard play is important in December. It's the difference between advancing and going home in March.

"I thought Anthony (Marshall) was terrific today," Rice said. "He is still making the transition from an all-conference shooting guard to point guard, and games like this will greatly help him and our team as we get ready for (Mountain West) play."

UNLV was much better over the final 20 minutes, much more aggressive, much more apt to attack pressure than not. Marshall had much to do with that. The Rebels even held a lead (49-48), although for only 25 seconds.

But you can't turn the ball over 17 times and miss 10 free throws and allow North Carolina to shoot 51 percent in its building and expect to do anything but lose here. The game was close in the end but decided in the beginning. UNLV was good for 25 minutes but awful for 15, and it cost the Rebels their first defeat in 10 outings.

There will be other such games - at New Mexico, at San Diego State, at Colorado State, to name a few - when pressure will come, and UNLV must react better. The truth is, its best point guard - signed recruit Jelan Kendrick - is playing at a junior college in Iowa and, while not particularly effective in his stops at Memphis and Mississippi, is the projected starter next season.

Daquan Cook is a freshman who chose to remove his redshirt this year but isn't ready for major minutes at this level, or he would get them. He can't even get off the bench right now.

This is what the Rebels have. Combo guards running the point. It works most nights because UNLV is so talented at so many spots. It's going to win the Rebels a lot of games.

It didn't on Saturday over those first 15 minutes, when sound decisions were nonexistent.

Marshall again did his part putting up numbers. The lights were bright, and he made plays.

But for those things not seen on a stat sheet, the Rebels have issues at point guard.

This is who they are.

For better, worse and who-knows-what come March.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on "Gridlock," ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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