Unlv vs gardner-webb
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

FSM Essential Recap: UNLV vs Gardner-Webb – Game 1

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The Runnin’ Rebels tipped off the 2021/22 season Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb at Thomas & Mack. The Kevin Kruger era started with a 64-58 victory over the Bulldogs.

 

UNLV vs Gardner-Webb
Photo Credit: LV Sports Biz

So, you wanna be a coach?” First-year head coach Kevin Kruger got the proverbial baptism by fire Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. His team ran the gauntlet on their way to an “under-impressive” win over an experienced Bulldogs team. Gardner-Webb returned nine players from a team that just a year ago was, well, not-so-experienced, or shall I say almost a mirror image of Kruger’s Runnin Rebels team that boasts ten new faces! If your greatest opponent is yourself, then an even greater opponent would have been where you currently are and moved forward. 

However, if Wednesday night’s game was merely a tune-up for UNLV, someone must have forgotten to tell Gardner-Webb, who came out from the opening tip refusing to show any signs of fear, intimidation, or a willingness to lay down. The Bulldogs made it clear from the opening few possessions that they were not in awe of the mere 25% capacity Thomas & Mack Center (4,962 to be exact).

 

The Bulldogs were not in town to run up and down the strip or gaze into the blinding glare of a neon paradise…they came here to ball!

 

After the Bulldogs made that clear to the Rebels, 6-2 Gardner-Webb junior Lance Terry made it a point to drive the message home with a thunderous breakaway dunk. By the time Terry put his brand of ultra-athleticism on display for the second time, the Rebels were on their heels and trailing for the better part of the first half.

The Rebel coaching staff had made it a point of emphasis concerning the Rebels’ ability to close out to shooters aggressively, yet not too aggressive as to allow ballhandlers (or non-shooters) the opportunity to drive by defenders and give up the easy drop off pass for a layup/dunk. Kruger said that the focus should be on “position and intent.”However, the Rebels often found themselves doing one of these things very well and then failing to execute the other.

Aside from the defensive lapses closing out on shooters, there were some bright moments on the defensive end as well. One bright spot was the on-ball pressure applied by the Rebel guards, in particular, freshman Keshon Gilbert. As advertised, the frosh guard will be the most logical choice to take on the task, night after night, and defend opposing guards. I suspect that more often than not, Gilbert will eagerly take that challenge.

 

Although there were times in which UNLV’s Bryce Hamilton struggled, there were also times in which he showed that he is not only a special unique player, but a pro.

 

UNLV vs Gardner-Webb
Photo Credit: LV Sports Biz

Hamilton put up 25 shots which might be five shots too many for the Rebels offense to run efficiently. After making a couple of free throws, Bryce calmly knocked down a jump shot only to drill a three-pointer soon after and essentially delivered the knockout blow as he finished the night with 22 points.

Nonetheless, the Rebels administered a steady diet of Royce Hamm Jr. He harnessed his emotions and played freely. He was active, mobile, and manned the post for the Rebels while scoring 18 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Hamm Jr. also had four blocks. Donovan Williams showed glimpses of brilliance with 10 points and six rebounds.

Along with Michael Nuga, juco transfer Josh Baker displayed tenacity on the defensive side of the ball. After starting his first game at the Division-I level, Baker settled in and played the second-most minutes on the team, 31:18. Baker also dished out three assists.  

Gardner-Webb got strong performances from D’Maurian Williams with 21 points and ten rebounds. The Bulldogs also got 11 rebounds from Zion Williams. UNLV had a dismal shooting performance. The Bulldogs were a measly 3-20, and the Rebels weren’t much better shooting a blinded 2-25. Both teams essentially pulled down a total of 44 and 45 rebounds, respectively.

 

Game Takeaways

 

At the end of the day, a win like this is much better than a game in which the Rebels blow a team out. Blowouts disguise your team’s flaws, and we all know that some of the best lessons learned come from failure. However, when you can make all of those mistakes and still squeak out a win, you’re rather fortunate. 

December 1, 1973, another coach you may be familiar with debuted as the UNLV Runnin Rebels first-year coach, and he lost. That was the great Jerry Tarkanian. Tark lost that game against Texas Tech 76-82. However, the Rebel fan base was patient and loyal, and from there, Tark went on to have one of the most storied careers as a coach, regardless of sport! Ironically, Kruger won his debut by the same margin…6 points!

 

RUNNIN’ WITH THE REBELS! 

 

UNLV vs Gardner-Webb
Photo Credit: UNLV Athletics

The following are game tidbits that may not show up in the boxscore! 

The streak is still alive! This game’s “streaker” is Royce Hamm Jr. With 13:41 left in the 1st half Hamm Jr. nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Royce Hamm Jr. has proven to be every bit as talented as we expect.

Keshon Gilbert displayed outstanding toughness and tenacity on defense.

Former Runnin’ Rebel great Tyrone Nesby was in attendance cheering on his favorite team.

The Thomas and Mack Center was loud on Wednesday with just 4,962 in attendance. But coach Kruger and the Runnin’ Rebels could use your support by showing up and giving them a homecourt advantage. Click here to get your UNLV Runnin’ Rebels tickets! 

 

 

The Rebels will now take on the California Bears at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday evening. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 pm, and the game can be seen on the Mountain West Conference stream.

 

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-Che Jones – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Che on Twitter @CoachCheJones

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