UNLV struggled to a 60-50 win over Air Force at the Thomas & Mack Center on Tuesday, but the night could end up being a net loss for a team that now stands at 17-4 on the season.
Starting forward Derrick Jasper went down with an apparent knee injury after teammate Matt Shaw took a charge and fell awkwardly on Jasper’s left leg.
“Right now, nothing (has been) checked out officially. It’s a strain or a sprain at this point. He’ll get an MRI tomorrow,” head coach Lon Kruger said. “It doesn’t feel real good at this point. We’ll know more in the morning. It’s one of those freak injuries. Matt took the charge and just kind of fell down there.
It wasn’t anything more than him getting rolled into by a guy that was falling. There’s not too much you can do about that.”
The injured knee was the same one Jasper had micro fracture surgery on in the summer of 2007. He appeared to be crying as he was helped off the court by UNLV’s training staff at halftime.
“The whole team was sad to see him go down like that,” Brice Massamba said. “I went down like that in high school. It’s tough. We just hope he will be okay and that he can play.”
If he can’t play, Kendall Wallace will see his role greatly expanded. He was up to the challenge in the second half, knocking down four 3-pointers to help the Rebels overcome a horrendous first half and build a lead to which they would hold on down the stretch.
“They’re looking at it and we’ll see what happens there,” he said. “We’re there for him.”
Tre’Von Willis scored nine of his team-high 13 points in the second half. Wallace and Chace Stanback each added 12 points.
Willis hit a key 3-pointer with just under a minute to play to extend the Rebels lead back to 56-48 and essentially put Air Force away, but his streak of scoring at least 20 points in each conference game was snapped in the low-scoring affair.
Grant Parker and Tom Fow each had 11 points to lead the Falcons. Parker, who also had a game-high seven rebounds, just returned to the lineup in Air Force’s last game after missing 10 games due to injury. He is the team’s leading scorer and rebounded this season.
The game was much closer than expected as UNLV entered as nearly a 20-point favorite. The outcome appeared very much in doubt for a large portion of the game before Wallace and Oscar Bellfield hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Stanback followed with a jumper for an 8-0 run that finally gave the Rebels a bit of a margin.
Wallace summed up the scare after the game.
“This would have been a tough one to lose,” he said. “The fact we were able to win was huge.”
Air Force has played a low-scoring, grind-it-out style for several years, but this year’s team is having all kinds of trouble scoring.
At least they have been consistent lately, though.
Air Force scored exactly 50 points for the third time in six Mountain West Conference games.
They haven’t been too far off that number in the other three contests.
The Falcons scored 48, 49 and an astounding 54 in those games.
It all adds up to an 0-6 start to league play and an overall conference losing streak that reached 22 games tonight.
Dishing ‘Em Out
Oscar Bellfield had 10 assists in the victory, which would be a good number on just about any night.
What makes his accomplishment all the more impressive is the fact UNLV made a total of just 22 field goals in the game. That means he assisted on nearly half the baskets the team scored, especially when you consider that he made one of the shots on which he didn’t get an assist.
Bellfield didn’t commit a turnover in the contest.
How was Air Force able to hold UNLV to just 60 points, including a lowly 21 in the first half?
By limiting transition opportunities.
In fact, UNLV had 0 fast-break points in the game.
Good transition defense starts on offense and the Falcons limited themselves to just 11 turnovers. More importantly, just four of those were the result of UNLV steals.
That’s not the way the Rebels like to play and that is precisely why Air Force has been such a matchup problem the last few years.
Throw it Up
UNLV got an offensive rebound on a possession with just under 2:30 remaining in the game as it was trying to protect what had become just a 5-point lead.
Oscar Bellfield got the ball at the top of the key before Air Force was able to fully set its defense and Chace Stanback was in the corner trying to get his attention.
Stanback was trying to signal Bellfield to throw up a lob at the rim, knowing the Falcons had lost track of him momentarily.
Bellfield finally noticed the gesturing after a couple seconds that must have seemed like an eternity to Stanback. It wasn’t a perfect toss, making a dunk nearly impossible, but Stanback corralled the pass and layed it in to extend the lead.
Kendall Wallace struggled with his jumper in the first half, missing all four of his attempts from 3-point range.
He was pressed into starting duty in the second half after Derrick Jasper left the game with an apparent left knee injury, however, and he responded by knocking down four 3s after the break.
If Jasper is going to miss significant time, which appears more likely than not at this point, Wallace will need to step up and be more than just a shooter.
His shot will obviously continue to be his most important contribution, but he must fill the extensive complementary role that Jasper has provided this season.
“A player like Derrick does a lot on the floor,” Wallace said. “I just went out there and did the best I could (in his place.)”
Head coach Lon Kruger said the team is confident Wallace can fill any void left by Jasper’s absence just as he did in the second half Tuesday night.
“Kendall’s a guy that can make shots,” Kruger said. “Obviously, he did it at a time where we needed it tonight.”