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Rebels roll to home victory over Robert Morris

Updated December 21, 2019 - 3:50 pm

After chiding his UNLV players for their lethargy in a 74-66 loss to Pacific on Wednesday, coach T.J. Otzelberger praised them for their passion after an 81-69 win over Robert Morris on Saturday.

Apparently better effort can indeed produce a better result.

The Rebels (5-8) rebounded from the apathetic loss by playing with a palpable enthusiasm on both ends of the floor and outworking Robert Morris (4-9). Junior forwards Mbacke Diong and Donnie Tillman took advantage of the Colonials’ smaller interior defenders to post 17 points and seven rebounds apiece.

Sophomore point guard Marvin Coleman paced another new starting lineup by scoring 16 points.

“Guys were laying it on the line,” Otzelberger said of the win at the Thomas & Mack Center. “That was far from a masterpiece that we played. … But from an effort standpoint, I can hold my head high.”

Here are three more observations from Saturday’s win.

Sending a message

Otzelberger altered the starting lineup, perhaps as both a response to the loss to Pacific and as an internal disciplinary measure. Leading scorer Amauri Hardy was replaced by Jay Green, who’d played in two games. Vitaliy Shibel also started in place of Jonah Antonio, and walk-on Trey Hurlburt checked in during the first half for his first playing time of the season.

Green played a team-high 31 minutes and was active defensively and on the glass. He finished with six points and six rebounds. Shibel had 13 points and six rebounds.

Hardy, who’d averaged team highs of 37.6 minutes and 17.1 points, scored two points on 1-of-2 shooting in nearly 22 minutes.

Otzelberger mentioned team rules and said “things like being on time, those aren’t negotiable and aren’t compromised,” but didn’t elaborate. He emphasized, though, that “the guys that played today earned the right to play today,” noting they’ll play more moving forward.

More Marvin

Coleman, the 6-foot-2-inch guard, started for the second consecutive game and “displayed the will of a champion” in leading the Rebels, per Otzelberger. He made 6 of 7 field goals and added two rebounds, three assists and two steals in nearly 31 minutes.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” said Coleman, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship before the season. “I’m going to do anything I can to help my team win.”

Coleman orchestrated a fluid offense, featuring plenty of ball and player movement. He attacked gaps for layups, converted a pair of catch and shoot 3-pointers and dove for multiple loose balls to ignite the crowd, his teammates and coaches.

“His desire, will to succeed was impeccable,” Otzelberger said. “Couldn’t be more proud of him for that.”

Owning the interior

The Rebels altered their strategy in the second half and began initiating their offense with post-ups to Diong, Tillman, Shibel and Nick Blair. The quartet attacked the basket or drew multiple defenders and passed to open teammates on the perimeter, resulting in layups, open driving lanes and open jumpers.

UNLV outscored the Colonials in the paint 50-18 and outrebounded them 36-19.

“We had the height advantage and we were going to out-physical them,” Blair said. “We just wanted to pound it inside and go inside out.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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