With former UNLV interim coach Todd Simon and ex-Rebel forward Dwayne Morgan back in the Thomas & Mack Center on Friday, Southern Utah figured to give the home team all it had.
And the Thunderbirds certainly did that, even tying the game late in the second half.
But UNLV prevailed, using a nine-point run to pull away and then having to hold off a late charge to win 76-71.
“They really played hard,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said of the Thunderbirds. “They came with a lot of emotion, intensity, enthusiasm. They played together. They executed what the coach wanted. I thought they did a really good job, and they were a formidable foe tonight.”
The Rebels (4-1) extended their winning streak to four games, though this was the first one that wasn’t by double digits. They did hand Southern Utah (3-1) its first loss.
“I think (a close victory) is very, very valuable,” Menzies said. “I’m a little down because I wanted (the players) to be down. I wanted them to be a little more, ‘Man, we should’ve played better.’ And I didn’t feel that, so the culture is still developing. My expectations and the discipline are still developing.
“But to pull it out is big.”
UNLV won this game in two primary areas — on the boards and at the free-throw line. The Rebels had a 53-29 rebound edge and went 30 of 43 from the line, versus 8 of 16 for the Thunderbirds.
Southern Utah zoned the Rebels throughout, and UNLV had trouble adjusting. The Rebels made 4 of 19 3-pointers and shot 38.2 percent overall.
But they made the plays when needed. After Southern Utah tied the game at 55 with 7:12 left, UNLV went on its key nine-point run.
“We did a good job of keeping our composure and being able to sustain that run and be able to go on a run ourselves,” UNLV guard Kris Clyburn said.
Clyburn led the Rebels with 14 points. Teammate Shakur Juiston finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds.
Morgan scored 12 points for the Thunderbirds but played only 22 minutes because of a separated shoulder he suffered Sunday at Seattle. He transferred to Southern Utah nearly a year ago.
“He tried to go,” Simon said. “He wasn’t going to miss this (game). We tried to let him go, but when (the shoulder) came back out, it wasn’t going to work.”
Simon is in his third season as the Thunderbirds’ coach. He was the Rebels’ interim coach for the second half of the 2015-16 season. He spent three years at UNLV overall.