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CEDAR CITY — Visiting UNLV (4-4) came up with 19 points off of turnovers to come away with a 73-51 win at Southern Utah (1-6) Saturday night. The Rebels turned 11 steals into 12 fast break points and had four different players score in double figures on their way to victory.
"I thought that we came out and executed extremely well, offensively and defensively," stated SUU head coach Nick Robinson. "For the most part the difference in the game was turnovers. If we are able to be a little bit stronger with the basketball, against a very good defensive team, we might give ourselves a little more opportunity."
The visitors opened things up with a corner three from Kevin Olekaibe, but A.J. Hess answered from behind the arc on the other end to even things up at 3-3. The two sides then traded baskets before the Thunderbirds took their first lead of the night as Cal Hanks dropped in a basket to make the count 7-6 after six minutes of play.
The Rebels came back with eight straight points to double up Southern Utah 14-7 before sophomore forward Casey Oliverson broke up the run with a jumper from the elbow.
Two more quick scores by UNLV had the visitors up 18-9 with 8:33 left in the opening half, but SUU center Jayson Cheesman got inside for a reverse layup and earned a trip to the line where he finished the three-point play to pull SUU back within six.
UNLV pulled ahead by 12 late in the half, but a 6-0 run had the Thunderbirds down by just six after freshman Trey Kennedy scored four straight points before finding Oliverson inside for a two-handed slam that made the score 25-19.
Three consecutive 3-pointers helped push the Rebel lead to 36-19, but another jumper by Kennedy and a pair of free throws from Juwan Major cut the deficit to 38-23 heading into the break.
UNLV went 4-5 from the field to start the second half to up the advantage to 50-30. The Thunderbirds held the visitors to just one point over the next four minutes however and put-back scores from Cheesman and Jaren Jeffery followed by a shot from the corner by McKay Anderson cut the margin to 51-36.
From there a 15-6 run would put the Rebels in control for good as the visitors built a 66-42 lead with just over six minutes remaining. Major provided a final highlight play for SUU after coming up with a steal and flying down the court to hammer in a dunk, but UNLV remained out in front and eventually came away with the 73-51 win.
Four Rebels scored in dougle-figures as Roscoe Smith and Jelan Kendrick both finished with 12 points while Olekaibe and Jelan Kendrick each added another 11. The visitors held a 44-33 rebounding edge and outshot Southern Utah 44.9 percent to 31.6 percent. Jeffery and Kennedy had 10 points apiece to lead the Thunderbirds.
"We have a resilient bunch of guys who want to continue to get better, and we are only a quarter of the way through the season," commented Robinson. "I feel like we have the resiliency and enough toughness to deal with whatever the record is because our focus right now is improving every single day. That is what we are trying to do."
SUU will return to the road next week for a pair of games in Southern California. The Thunderbirds visit San Diego State on Wednesday, Dec. 18 at 8:00 p.m. (MT) followed by a matchup with the University of San Diego on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Coverage of Southern Utah basketball is available online at www.suutbirds.com.