Just one day after a Top 5 team (Connecticut) suffered its first loss of the season, the nation's top-ranked team fell in the title game of the Las Vegas Invitational. North Carolina (5-1) fell 90-80 to UNLV (7-0) in a game that featured two standout performances from forwards...and neither played for the team with the frontcourt that many judged to be the nation's best. Mike Moser scored 16 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out six assists while Chace Stanback scored a game-high 28 to go along with ten caroms to help first-year head coach remain undefeated at his alma mater. As a team the Rebels out-reounded North Carolina 48-39, grabbing 14 offensive boards and outscoring the Tar Heels 20-6 in second-chance points.
"I would like to congratulate coach Rice and his team," stated UNC head coach Roy Williams. "They did a nice job. We could never get our focus offensively the entire game. What killed us, they got 20 points on offensive rebounds to our six."
The rebounding and second-chance points stats were just two areas where North Carolina left much to be desired. Another: shot selection, specifically the ones that weren't set up in the open floor by Kendall Marshall. Marshall finished with eight of North Carolina's 14 assists and they shot just 42.4% from the field for the game, including 30.6% in the second half. The judicious shot selection that pushed the Heels out to a 42-38 halftime lead disappeared, opening the door for UNLV to not only take the lead but pull away. North Carolina assisted on half of their made field goals, a far cry from their assist percentage average for the season of 63.8%.
An important note about Marshall's stat line is that six of those assists came in the first half. As the defense of Oscar Bellfield (16 points, nine assists) and Anthony Marshall (13 points) improved the Rebels as a team took off, as they effectively neutralized the "straw" that stirs the drink for UNC. Harrison Barnes and P.J. Hairston scored 15 points apiece for the Tar Heels, but Barnes made just six of his sixteen shots on the night. And Tyler Zeller struggled mightily inside, making just one of his six shot attempts and scoring five points. UNLV did a better job of not only making shots in the second half (47%) but also creating the good looks, assisting on 13 of their 18 field goals.
"I was surprised about a lot of things we didn't do," said Williams. "We have to be stronger with the basketball. We have to guard the basketball better. We never did get the flow going. We have to be whole lot more patient."
Another tie that binds UNLV forwards Moser and Stanback is that they are both transfers from UCLA, which probably poured salt in the wounds of fans who also watched their Bruins lose 50-0 to rival USC on the gridiron. But UCLA's loss is UNLV's gain, and this experienced group is more than capable of building on Saturday night's performance. But they have to remain hungry due to the tough games that are on the schedule between now and Christmas. By the time that holiday rolls around the Rebels will have played UCSB, Wichita State, Wisconsin and Illinois (United Center) on the road and California two days before Christmas. How big of a threat is UNLV nationally? We won't know for sure until Christmas, but Saturday night sure was a step in the right direction.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Ryan Boatright makes an immediate impact in his first regular game as a Husky.
Freshman Ryan Boatright had to sit out the first six games of the season due to an NCAA suspension, and his absence hamstrung Connecticut in regards to their perimeter depth. When Shabazz Napier needed a rest at the point the option more times than not was Jeremy Lamb, as they didn't have another solid option to handle the duties. Boatright's return became that much more important against Florida State on Saturday as he scored 14 points and handed out three assists in the Huskies' 78-76 overtime win over Florida State. He also made three free throws in the final seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime, and there were occasions throughout the game in which UConn went with all three guards on the floor at the same time. Could this become something that Jim Calhoun calls on consistently? That remains to be seen, but at the very least the return of Boatright allows UConn to be more versatile on the perimeter.
2. Harvard slows down UCF in the first half on their way to the Battle 4 Atlantis crown.
The title game wasn't the matchup expected (UConn/Florida State), but it did offer a solid matchup between teams with designs on getting to the NCAA Tournament this season. Harvard took a good step in that direction in the Bahamas, leaving with the tournament crown as a result of their 59-49 win over UCF. The Knights shot just 25% from the field in the first half and they went into the break trailing 33-18, a margin that proved too big to overcome in the second half. Keith Wright combined to score 27 points and grab 17 rebounds and the Harvard frontcourt did a good job of slowing down UCF's Keith Clanton, who scored 12 points on 4-for-16 shooting from the field. Harvard outscored UCF 23-8 at the foul line, helping to make up for the 17 offensive boards they allowed on the day. With their best remaining non-conference game being a trip to UConn next month, to leave the Bahamas with the tournament crown is a very good result for Tommy Amaker's team.
3. Iowa State explodes in the second half to win the South Padre Island Invitational.
Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones capped a productive trip to South Padre Island with an impressive second half in their 90-63 win over Rice, scoring 53 points while limiting the Owls to 45% shooting on their two-point shots. One other thing about Iowa State: they can shoot, and the Cyclones made 14 of their 29 three-point attempts as they outscored Rice by 30 points (42-12) from distance. Penn State transfer Chris Babb led the way with 26 points (seven three-pointers) and Tyrus McGee led three other Cyclones in double figures with 17. Iowa State also out-rebounded Rice 46-31 with Melvin Ejim grabbing 11 boards to lead the way. The team many were concerned with due to the number of transfers is off to a 5-1 start, and while there may be slip-ups along the way the Cyclones could very well be a sleeper in the Big 12.
1. There will be concern as the season wears on about how St. John's will deal with their lack of depth. The Red Storm looked to run out of gas in the second half of their 73-64 loss to Northeastern, and if the Johnnies don't gain the services of at the very least Amir Garrett come December it could be a tough ride through the Big East.
2. Wisconsin won the Chicago Invitational with a 73-56 win over BYU, limiting the Cougars to 36% shooting from the field and 24 points in the second half. Ben Brust made seven of his ten three-point attempts on the night and Jordan Taylor added 18 points, eight assists and five rebounds.
3. For all the talk regarding where UNLV should be ranked come Monday, some may want to take a look at fellow Mountain West member San Diego State. The Aztecs moved to 7-1 on the season with a 76-75 win at UCSB, capping a week that began with the snapping of Arizona's 22-game home win streak.
4. Isaiah Canaan scored 36 points and grabbed eight rebounds in Murray State's 90-81 double overtime win over Southern Miss to win the Great Alaska Shootout. Three other Racers reached double figures, and this tournament win (and 7-0 record) is a good start for first-year head coach Steve Prohm.
5. Reason why people were told to calm down on the at-large talk concerning Long Beach State: there's a lot of basketball to be played between now and Selection Sunday. The 49ers fell 73-71 at Montana, and while the Grizzlies are expected to contend in the Big Sky this defeat (and the one at San Diego State) are exactly why one can't put the cart before the horse.
Three Notable Performances
1. F Chace Stanback and F Mike Moser (UNLV)
Stanback scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed ten rebounds while Moser posted a line of 16 points, 18 rebounds and six assists in the Runnin' Rebels 90-80 win over North Carolina.
2. F Marshall Bjorklund (North Dakota State)
27 points (12-15 FG), 13 rebounds and three assists in the Sioux's 78-65 win over Fresno State. NDSU is 6-0 to start the season.
3. G Devon Saddler (Delaware)
32 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Blue Hens' 81-78 win over Lafayette.