LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Playing in front of the largest season-opening crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center in school history, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels showcased their No. 18 national ranking with 92-54 victory over Northern Arizona Monday night.
"This does not derail what we are doing," said head coach Jack Murphy. "We had the deck stacked against us tonight. A lot of guys played out of position and were put in new positions we have not asked them to play in practice. They responded and we learned a lot about our guys. They played and competed, getting on the floor and made UNLV work."
Anthony Bennett led UNLV with 22 points among four players in double figures. Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt both scored 14 points and Savon Goodman had 11 for the Rebels.
UNLV shot 50 percent from the floor and posted a 51-29 advantage on the boards. They scored 42 points in the paint and out-scored the Lumberjacks with a 21-0 advantage on the fast break.
NAU (0-2) made a run late in the first half to cut the lead to 31-23 but the Runnin' Rebels closed the half on a 14-0 run and scored the first five points of the second half, never looking back. Over the final 24 plus minutes, the Lumberjacks were out-scored 61-31 and shot just 25 percent in the game.
Freshman Dewayne Russell scored the first nine points of the second half for NAU, posting 16 on the night in his first career start. He scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the second half aided by a 9-for-9 performance at the line. Senior guard Gabe Rogers added 13 points for the Lumberjacks. Senior guard Michael Dunn added 11.
"It was tough but I am happy we did not give up," said Russell. "Nobody gave up."
NAU was limited in the game with four players sitting out or leaving the game with injuries. Senior guard Stallon Saldivar and forward Ephraim Ekanem both did not play in the second half after suffering injuries during the opening half. NAU also started without Gaellan Bewernick (ankle) and Nick Wahl (illness).
UNLV took the lead early by scoring the first eight points in the game, quickly extending the lead to double digits. Bennett scored seven straight followed by eight straight by DeJean-Jones. The Lumberjacks closed behind a hot streak by Rogers. After starting 1-of-8 as a team beyond the arc, NAU made four of their next six attempts, including three straight by Rogers and fourth by Dunn to cut the lead to eight at 31-23.
It would be the closest point of the game. UNLV closed the half with a 14-0 run to take a 45-23 lead into the locker room as the Lumberjacks failed to score over the final 4:48 of the half.
NAU shot just 25.8 percent in the first half.
The Runnin' Rebels are ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1992-93 and the No. 18 ranking is the highest preseason ranking since being No. 1 in 1990-91.
The game was a homecoming for Coach Murphy, who is a Las Vegas native and attended Durango High School.
NAU travels to UC Davis on a non-conference game Sunday afternoon at 3:05 p.m.