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UNLV opens T.J. Otzelberger era with 86-71 victory

Updated November 5, 2019 - 11:34 pm

Ten minutes was all UNLV needed Tuesday night to find itself.

The Rebels took charge after that, taking a 16-point lead at halftime and going on to beat Purdue-Fort Wayne 86-71 before about 4,000 fans at the Thomas & Mack Center in the first game under coach T.J. Otzelberger.

UNLV used a 25-4 run late in the first half to go up 39-21 before the Mastodons made a basket shortly before intermission.

“I was pleased with our guys in how they came out and prepared for this game,” Otzelberger said. “Once it’s for real, it’s for real. I think our guys established in that first half who we can be defensively when we pressure the basketball, when we really guard and contest the 3-point line — they were 1-for-14 at half — and do a great job on the glass.”

Mbacke Diong and Jonah Antonio led the way for UNLV with 17 points apiece. Diong also led the Rebels in rebounding with 17.

Here are three takeaways from the Rebels’ victory:

1. Taking care of business.

The Rebels entered the game as 11½-point favorites, and they didn’t play down to their competition. This isn’t a victory many will remember in February, but it’s important to establish the mindset of approaching each opponent with the same level of intensity.

Not that it was completely smooth. UNLV looked sloppy at times. The Rebels needed time in both halves to exert their dominance — Fort Wayne even got to within 60-51 with more than 10 minutes remaining.

But exert that dominance the Rebels did, underscored by their 43-19 rebounding advantage.

2. Spreading the scoring.

Antonio made 4 of 5 3-pointers in the first half and had 12 points, his shooting a big key to the Rebels’ early lead. But if this game showed anything, it’s that scoring for this team can come from just about anywhere.

Five players finished in double figures for UNLV, which made 51.9 percent of its shots.

“I’m putting our starting five up against any starting five in the country,” Antonio said. “I believe in those boys. … We have really five threats on the floor at all times. It makes for a dangerous team on the offensive end.”

3. Getting more serious.

Otzelberger and his players can take plenty from this game, but the next three will be more telling.

UNLV hosts Kansas State at 1 p.m. Saturday and then travels to California and UCLA next week for a pair of 8 p.m. tipoffs. All three teams have their own issues to sort through, but they are Power Five programs.

“Although we have a lot of respect for our opponents, we invest our time in us getting better,” Otzelberger said. “There’s not a ton of time preparing as much as us continuing to improve. We know we’ve got a stretch here of some really good teams. Kansas State is the only one that really matters right now because they’re the one coming up on Saturday.

“They’ve been at the top of the Big 12 Conference … which I think is one of the best, if not best, leagues in the country. … We’ve got to get back to the practice floor. We’ve got to be competitive and fight. It’s going to be a really tough game come Saturday.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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