LAS VEGAS (AP) — With 14 minutes to play in the Heavyweight bracket’s championship game of the MGM Grand Main Event on Wednesday night, UNLV’s Jovan Mooring drained a 3-point shot and teammate Jordan Johnson took a lap around the court while pumping his fist, revving up the crowd at T Mobile Arena.
It’s the type of jubilation that was missing from Runnin’ Rebel basketball last season.
It’s the type of energy UNLV coach Marvin Menzies is glad to see.
Brandon McCoy scored 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds to lead the Runnin’ Rebels to an 85-58 victory over Utah.
“I thought for the most part we got them off rhythm,” Menzies said. “It was a very good team we beat. Tonight we were good; it’s a great appetizer before a Thanksgiving meal.”
Ahead by 10 at halftime, the Runnin’ Rebels (5-0) caught fire in the second half, built a lead as big as 27 points and cruised to the win.
“I had so much fun playing with my brothers,” said McCoy, who was named MVP of the tournament. “I had a lot of adversity when I committed to UNLV, I got death threats, a lot of stuff. But I bought into what coach Menzies was saying, I clicked with the guys as soon as I got here and I’m just thankful to be a part of something special.”
McCoy has scored in double figures in every game so far for UNLV, and Wednesday night he registered his fourth double-double of the season. The 7-foot freshman is averaging 21.2 points and 12.8 rebounds per game.
UNLV also got 20 points from Johnson, while Mooring scored 19.
“We continued to move the ball and get into the paint, especially with me and Jordan out there, we can pretty much get wherever we want on the court,” Mooring said. “So we just continued to put pressure on the defense. It was just about continuing to attack.”
While the Utes’ bench outscored UNLV’s 27-9, the Rebels outrebounded Utah 46-30. UNLV outscored Utah in the paint 46-34, and also with second-chance opportunities, 20-6.
Utah (4-1) struggled from the field, shooting 21-of-60, including 2 for 20 from 3-point range.
Asked if his players might have been tired from playing their first road trip, and in the late game for the second time in three nights, Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak refused to make excuses.
“No, that’s lame,” Krystkowiak said. “Some of the little things you talk about in basketball, it would have been a lot different mindset had we come into the locker room without a double-digit (deficit).
They made some great plays and their defense was extremely good all night long. We got our butts kicked.
“Their players stepped up and, for the most part, we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
The Utes were led by Donnie Tillman, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Tyler Rawson added 10 points.
David Collette, who is expected to be Utah’s go-to guy in the paint and was the leading returner in scoring, finished with just nine points and two rebounds.
UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels are 5-0 for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
Utah: Coach Larry Krystkowiak was hoping to get a contribution from one of his newcomers, and Tillman has proven to be a solid recruit. The freshman is averaging 10 points and 7.4 rebounds per game through the Utes’ first five contests.
UNLV returns to its own place after playing a pair down the road at T Mobile Arena, and will host Southern Utah on Saturday.
Utah won’t have much time to rest, as it hosts Eastern Washington on Friday.