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March 13, 2013The first possession couldn't have gone any worse for the Runnin' Rebels.
Attempting to thwart an Air Force attack that had methodically torn apart the UNLV defense on two occasions, the Rebels allowed a wide open 3-pointer to Mike Fitzgerald after a backdoor pass, which Fitzgerald buried from the corner.
And then the Rebels got stingy.
UNLV didn't allow another bucket for four minutes, but, more importantly, were the active hands that forced 13 Falcon turnovers in the first half, one away from AFA's game average.
The postseason must have caught the Rebels attention because it was the most spirited effort on the defensive end of the floor that UNLV has produced, especially during the first 20 minutes.
Marshall said of the defense, "Our coaching staff, they put together a terrific scouting report. They got us a couple times with back doors in the first couple games.
"We just tried to get our body in between them and the goal so they couldn't get no easy shots. The scouting report was a credit to our coaching staff."
Whether it was a difference in the way that the Rebels defended the flares or it was simply effort, UNLV did what it needed to do to jump out to an early advantage and then never look.
INJURY BUG - It's a shallow feeling of success whenever you defeat a team that loses a star player early in a contest.
The Academy didn't lose just one, it lost two within the first eight minutes of the game, which probably was a factor in how out of sync the Falcons' offensive execution was for the 20 minutes.
First, AFA headliner, Michael Lyons, injured his knee after Bryce Dejean-Jones swiped from behind and tapped the ball away from the senior playmaker, who has had his fair share of big games this season. Lyons lied writhing in pain at midcourt after only two minutes had ticked off the clock.
Not long after, the Falcons lost another key piece when Taylor Broekhuis got caught on the chin and had to leave the contest, as well.
Whether it would've made a difference on Wednesday afternoon or not, we'll never know. It's just a bummer when someone that has meant so much to a program, like Lyons, goes out in that manner.
BIG TIME BENNETT - When the lights come on and it's showtime, it appears that's when freshman sensation, Anthony Bennett, is ready for his best work.
After letting the first half pass without much of an impact, Bennett put the Rebels on his back in the second half, scoring 19 points and grabbing five rebounds during the span.
Bennett showed off his complete arsenal, as well, scoring in every way imaginable. He his mid-range jumpers. He hit a pair of 3-pointers. And he, of course, threw down a few of his patented thunder dunks.
"My teammates were giving me the ball in the first half. I was trying to look out for everybody, just kick it out in the post," Bennett said on the difference of the two halves. "I think in the second half, (Air Force) kind of laid back on me, so I just took advantage."
Truth be told, whenever Bennett is focused and feeling good, there aren't too many players in the country that can dominate the way he can. His ability to score in the paint and on the perimeter make him as versatile as any player around.
The lights are on, and Bennett is shining.