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Christian Jones stands tall in short UNLV front court

NASSAU, Bahamas — A little more than two minutes into Sunday’s exhibition, Christian Jones missed a jumper, charged after the rebound and put the basketball in the hoop.

He was brought to UNLV as much for his veteran leadership as his skills on the court, but as he showed in the 80-79 loss to the University of Toronto at Sir Kendal Isaacs Gym, Jones is quite capable of leading by example as well.

Jones, a graduate transfer from St. John’s, finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.

“It’s not really numbers for me, it’s what I have to do for us to win,” Jones said. “If we’re low on bigs down low, I’ve got to fill in that spot. Toughness is something I’ve got to bring to the team as well.”

Jones averaged 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds last season with the Red Storm, so he wasn’t asked to produce such big numbers on a regular basis.


 

“I know this is just an exhibition game, but it’s a great opportunity for us to see his toughness and his physicality,” coach Marvin Menzies said. “I was impressed with Chris’ experience. It kind of showed today.”

UNLV might need the 6-foot-7-inch forward to carry the load on a more regular basis, similar to what he did against Toronto. Kris Clyburn had nine rebounds, but other than he and Jones, the other Rebels combined for 12.

“That’s not a healthy balance,” Menzies said. “We’ll persevere. We’ll push through.”

The imbalance showed up in the overall rebound numbers, with Toronto winning that battle 41-36.

UNLV’s front court will receive a big boost when 6-11 freshman Cheickna Dembele is ruled eligible.

He is on the trip, but did not play because of an NCAA Clearinghouse issue.

Jones said he didn’t expect his role to change once Dembele is eligible, and noted they should complement each other. The Rebels were short at times with the 6-4 Uche Ofoegbu, who scored 20 points, sometimes playing power forward.

“He’s a big who brings power like me, but he’s bigger,” Jones said of Dembele. “It would take a lot of pressure off of me. We need him back size-wise.”

It’s little secret this is an inexperienced UNLV team, with Menzies and his staff having pieced together a roster that returns only three players. The Rebels had two weeks of practice leading up to this trip, which wasn’t enough time to work on end-of-game situations. Those scenarios will receive plenty of attention when preseason workouts begin in late September.

UNLV led 74-64 with less than five minutes remaining, and the Rebels had ample chances to put away the game, but missed their final five free throws. Then Ofoegbu fouled a 3-point shooter with half a second left to allow Toronto to steal the game.

For Jones and his UNLV teammates, this late breakdown is something to use for such situations in the future.

“It was a big learning experience,” Jones said. “This a big chemistry-building type of game to get the feel of each other. We still want the outcome to be a win, but this whole thing really is for the experience to get to know each other better.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow on Twitter: @markanderson65

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