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Rebels pull away at own pace as Hawkins keys second-half surge

Whether it was an emotional hangover from an extended holiday break or just the continuation of a team-wide shooting slump, UNLV appeared sluggish until Justin Hawkins provided a surge of energy.

The sophomore guard said he noticed the Rebels were dragging Thursday night, so he picked up the pace.

"Our offense wasn’t really there. You could tell everyone was not really there," he said. "We felt like we were a little slow through the whole game."

Not quite the whole game, because Hawkins changed things in the second half and helped UNLV pull away to a 73-47 victory over Central Michigan at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Hawkins scored 10 points and Oscar Bellfield made three 3-pointers during a 26-4 run that propelled the Rebels (12-2) to a comfortable, if not aesthetically pleasing, win to conclude their nonconference schedule.

"I’ve been in a big slump," said Hawkins, who matched his career high with 13 points. "I can’t remember the last time I had a good game offensively."

Senior guard Tre’Von Willis led UNLV with 15 points and five assists and Bellfield finished with 11 points and five assists. Derrick Jasper had nine points and sophomore forward Quintrell Thomas compiled eight points and eight rebounds in his first game off the bench.

The Rebels open Mountain West Conference play at home against No. 16 Brigham Young (13-1) on Wednesday.

"The first season is over," Willis said. "We’ve got another season and the conference is starting."

UNLV coach Lon Kruger said he thought "maybe a little rustiness showed" in his team’s first game in nine days, and it showed mostly in the first 25 minutes.

The Rebels shot 40 percent from the field in the first half, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range, but managed to build a 33-20 lead.

The Chippewas (3-10) were worse off, shooting 1-for-7 from the field and turning it over 11 times in the first 11 minutes. They finished the half with two assists and 17 turnovers.

Still, Central Michigan closed the gap to 38-31 on Trey Zeigler’s breakaway layup with 14:50 remaining.

Anthony Marshall’s three-point play ignited UNLV’s decisive run. Hawkins scored on a layup and jumper before Bellfield’s 3 from the top stretched the Rebels’ margin to 50-33.

A three-point play by Hawkins and another Bellfield 3 made the score 64-35 with 6:25 to go.

"Justin seems to make the right play at the right time," Kruger said. "I thought he gave us a nice pickup in the second half."

Hawkins, who made 5 of 10 field-goal attempts and added four rebounds and three steals, was not satisfied with UNLV’s effort.

"We weren’t really prepared mentally to come back to play," Hawkins said. "We took a lot of things for granted early in the season when we were making all our shots. The last couple games have really been a wake-up call. It’s a little disappointing."

Willis said the Rebels needed to make no apologies for a 26-point rout.

"I don’t think, from my standpoint, that we played bad," Willis said. "I really didn’t sense that too much. I felt like we were in it. That’s a good win, and we’ll take it."

Zeigler, the Chippewas’ top player, scored 16 points but had seven of his team’s 24 turnovers.

Junior forward Chace Stanback, UNLV’s leading scorer this season, shot 1-for-5 and scored only four points to continue his brief slump.

"It didn’t happen for Chace tonight necessarily," Kruger said, "but he didn’t get many looks at it."

Stanback has been shooting well in practice, Kruger said, and teammates promised Stanback will bounce back with BYU up next.

"Chace is fine. Chace is going to come around," Willis said. "That’s our guy. We’re going to keep believing in him."

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.

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