GAME NOTES: The Mississippi State Bulldogs ride a four-game win streak into the championship bout of the Las Vegas Classic, as they take on the UNLV Runnin' Rebels at Orleans Arena on Monday night.
The Bulldogs have gone a perfect 3-0 in the first three rounds of the event, with regional play victories over Florida A&M (78-65) and Florida Gulf Coast (66-53) last week, and a 71-66 triumph over South Florida on Sunday. The recent success has pushed them to 9-2 overall. Following the tournament, the Bulldogs will host Maryland-Eastern Shore on Jan. 2.
UNLV, which is playing in a quasi-home game on Monday considering it is just minutes from its campus, took down Santa Clara, 92-71, on Sunday to reach this game. The win was the fourth straight for the Rebels, who will be on the road against Cal State Fullerton in their next outing.
Back in 1981, Mississippi State paid a visit to UNLV in the first and only meeting between the two programs. The Rebels defended their homecourt in that contest, scoring a 75-67 victory.
Gavin Ware turned in a double-double consisting of 10 points and 15 rebounds as five players scored in double figures for Mississippi State on Sunday. The Bulldogs turned 18 USF turnovers into 20 points, and also held a slim advantage on the boards (32-31).
Mississippi State has certainly made it a habit to put forth stingy defensive efforts this seasons, as it holds the opposition to just 64.3 points per game and 42.7 percent shooting. The Bulldogs aren't that much better themselves at the offensive end. netting just over 70 points each time out. Craig Sword (15 ppg) is the go-to scorer for the unit, although he struggled to get to 10 points against USF. Ware (10.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg) is enjoying a solid season as the second-scoring option. His effort against the Bulls earned him his fourth double-double of the campaign, and first since posting three in the first four games.
UNLV was able to move and shoot the ball much better than Santa Clara in Sunday's victory. The Rebels sank a sizzling 60.7 percent of their shots from the floor and assisted on 17 field goals. On the other side, the Broncos were limited to 39 percent shooting and just eight helpers.
Although Roscoe Smith (12.8 ppg, 13.2 rpg), who leads the Rebels in scoring overall this season, finished with 15 points on Sunday, it was Deville Smith who carried them offensively, netting 21 points off the bench. Another such performance isn't likely as he averages just 5.7 points per game. Along with Roscoe Smith, Bryce Deheans-Joesn (12.2 ppg) and Khem Birch (11.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg) are the more likely candidates to top the scoring chart. Birch teams with Roscoe Smith down low to form a productive tandem on the glass as well. Controlling the boards is just part of the reason the Rebels have been so stingy on defense, letting up just 63.9 points per game on 38.6 percent shooting.
Even though the Bulldogs have the advantage in terms of record, the Rebels have better interior presence, superior consistency on defense and the benefit of playing down the road from its normal home. Expect UNLV to keep the Las Vegas Classic title in town.
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