When it seemed UNLV was hitting rock bottom, sophomore guard Oscar Bellfield was full of hope.
Bellfield sensed the Rebels, down 12 points to UNR in the second half, were about to go on a roll. So the stunning turnaround that started to unfold surprised just about everyone but him.
"We should never be down like that, especially at home," he said. "I knew the comeback was coming because that’s what we needed. We had to have it."
Bellfield scored a career-high 22 points, and freshmen Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall sparked a 23-4 second-half run to carry UNLV to an 88-75 victory over UNR on Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The Rebels (2-0) beat the Wolf Pack (1-1) for the fourth consecutive year, and they did it with Bellfield leading an unlikely supporting cast.
With his team down 54-42 with 14:36 remaining, UNLV coach Lon Kruger called timeout and made a risky move that paid a huge reward. Kruger took out starters Derrick Jasper, Chace Stanback and Tre’Von Willis and substituted in Hawkins, Marshall and senior walk-on Steve Jones.
"The group that was in there wasn’t getting results, and the guys who went in did," Kruger said. "Their energy got the crowd involved, and when you’re down 12, the crowd is kind of out of it."
Ten seconds later, Jones’ layup triggered an 11-0 run that included baskets by Bellfield, Hawkins and Marshall. Jones’ knuckleball 3-pointer pulled the Rebels within 54-53 with 12:12 left, increasing the roar from the crowd of 13,113.
Hawkins drove the lane and scooped in a layup to put UNLV up 59-58 with 10:01 to go. Kendall Wallace’s 3-pointer extended the lead to 68-60 with 7:50 left.
"There was so much energy in the building," said Hawkins, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. "We just kept on pushing. We were not giving up.
"It was a quick turnaround. Actually, I was real surprised. Everything happened in the blink of an eye, and we were on a roll."
The Rebels’ quicker guards penetrated the Wolf Pack defense, creating pick-and-roll and mismatch opportunities. Hawkins and Marshall made one big play after another.
"Our two freshmen, Anthony and Justin, are really good players," Kruger said.
Marshall, from Mojave High School, said he wanted to play for UNLV to be a part of such moments. He had six points, five rebounds and three steals.
"We want to be a team that fights and battles," Marshall said. "It was a great feeling. The crowd got behind us and we got a surge of energy."
Kruger eventually reinserted his starters, and Stanback hit a 3 to push the Rebels’ lead to 71-62 with seven minutes to go.
Jones, a 6-foot-1-inch guard, had five points and three assists. Equally impressive were the crucial possessions he spent defending 6-9 forward Luke Babbitt, UNR’s top player. Babbitt scored 14 points, but he shot 2-for-11 from the field and 10-for-10 on free throws.
UNLV also got strong interior play from Brice Massamba (eight points, six rebounds), Darris Santee (seven rebounds) and Matt Shaw (five points.)
"Early-season games are great learning opportunities, and we learned a lot," Kruger said. "Our depth really played a factor."
Brandon Fields scored 22 points for UNR, which led 38-33 at halftime.
UNLV shot 35 percent (13-for-37) in the first half and 52.6 percent (20-for-38) after halftime.
"We came in at halftime and it was like, they hit us in the mouth and we’re still standing," Hawkins said. "We took their best shot. We had to come back and hit them with a bigger shot, and that’s what we did."
As a freshman last year, Bellfield had a breakout performance by making five 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 17 points in the Rebels’ road win over the Wolf Pack. He burned them again by shooting 8-for-12 from the field and 6-for-7 on free throws.
Bellfield smiled and said, "There’s something about Reno, I guess."
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907.Game slide show
KEY: Oscar Bellfield scored a career-high 22 points and played a big part in the Rebels’ 23-4 second-half run.
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