The North Carolina Tar Heels ended non-conference play with a big win as they defeated the No. 20 UNLV Runnin' Rebels, 79-73, at Chapel Hill. A week after dropping out of the rankings following a loss at Texas, UNC used a balanced offensive and defensive effort to claim arguably the school's biggest win of the season. The loss helped avenge last season's upset loss to the Rebels in Las Vegas.
UNC jumped out to a double-digit lead early, and appeared ready to roll through UNLV. The Tar Heels led by as much as 15 in the first half, receiving strong performances from P.J. Hairston and Brice Johnson. UNLV cut into the lead before the half, and trailed by nine heading into the locker room.
The Rebels jumped out quickly in the second half, using a 19-9 run to take a 49-48 lead. The Tar Heels were playing without their second leading scorer, Reggie Bullock, and it showed as they struggled to get points for chunks of the second half. However, the team showed some late mental toughness. UNC took the lead back on its next possession, and never gave it up. UNLV hung close but could never get back over the hump, and will head back to Las Vegas at 11-2.
North Carolina received double-digit contributions from five different players, including Dexter Strickland (16), P.J. Hairston (15), James Michael McAdoo (13), Marcus Paige (12) and Brice Johnson (12). McAdoo was arguably the biggest performer, as he also contributed nine rebounds and was an all-around tough play for the Rebels.
The two keys for North Carolina were turnovers and offensive rebounds. UNLV was sloppy with the ball, and it cost them quite a bit, particularly in the first half as UNC scored 11 points off UNC turnovers. The Tar Heels also performed well on the offensive glass. UNC struggled with some of their first attempts, but did a strong job on the boards to put back quite a few second-chance points, finishing with 16 points after offensive rebounds.
UNLV received 15-point contributions from Anthony Bennett, Anthony Marshall and Katin Reinhardt. Bennett showed his lottery pick potential with a big second half as he completed his fifth double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. More importantly for his long-term future, he showed all facets of his game, with a mix of power and finesse play that makes him a great inside-outside play. It is also noteworthy that Mike Moser made his return to game action following his elbow dislocation on Dec. 9 at Cal. Moser finished the game with three points and one rebound before fouling out.
The win wraps up North Carolina's non-conference play. The Tar Heels will open ACC play with a trip to Charlottesville to face the Virginia Cavaliers Jan. 6 at 8:00 p.m. on ESPNU.
UNLV heads home for a pair of tune-up games before heading into Mountain West play. The Rebels host Chicago State Jan. 3 and Cal State Bakersfield Jan. 5.