One for the record books for Rebels, 71-58

OMAHA – The hallways underneath the stands at the Qwest Center were echoing for several minutes with loud chants from the Kent State basketball team just before it took the court for its first round NCAA Tournament game with UNLV. However, it was a whole lot quieter when the Golden Flashes came out for the start of the second half.

That's because UNLV (27-7) held the MAC champions to an NCAA Tournament record-tying 10 points in the first half while cruising to an easy 71-58 victory.

UNLV, which will face top seed Kansas (32-3) in the second round on Saturday, held the Golden Flashes (28-7) to just six points over the first 16:08 en route to a stunningly one-sided 31-10 halftime advantage.

The 10 points tied Wake Forest's record for first half futility in 2001 against Butler. The Bulldogs led 43-10 at halftime in that one.

Things were going so badly for Kent State that the Qwest Arena crowd of 17,162 let out a Bronx cheer when guard Chris Singletary snapped a 7½ minute scoreless drought with a driving basket to make it 27-8 with 3:52 left.

They did it again about 90 seconds later when guard Al Fisher scored on a drive to make it 29-10.

How one-sided was it? At halftime, UNLV had almost as many steals (nine) as Kent State had points (10). The Golden Flashes also had 17 turnovers.

The Rebels, behind the hot shooting of junior forward Joe Darger (game-high 18 points, 4-of-8 3-pointers), extended the lead to 25 points on three different occasions in the second half, the final time on a trey by Darger with 6:16 to go that made it 62-37.

"I was really proud of the way the guys opened the game and how aggressive they were," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "They communicated with each other and got on the floor after the loose balls. We seemed to win all those battles and really that was obviously the difference in the ballgame."

"It was great focus, intensity and desire from guys," senior guard Curtis Terry said. "We knew what we wanted to execute on defense. Guys like Corey (Bailey) and Rene (Rougeau) were flying around.

"I don't think they like the pressure, and that's what we wanted to do coming in. We feel like they hadn't seen the type of pressure that we like to apply on teams. … full court on the ball, half court just tough hard-nosed gritty defense. I think we surprised them coming out and playing that way. They might not have thought it was going to be that extreme, but that's what we do. That's how we play."

The Rebels did a particularly good defensive job on Fisher, the MAC player of the year who finished with just 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting and had four turnovers.

"We didn't come out the way we wanted to come out," Fisher said. "And we just kept making silly turnovers and it seemed like it just kept happening. We (were) getting a couple shots we wanted right on top of the rim but it wasn't falling. It happens like that sometimes."

Kent State was just 5-of-24 from the floor (20.8 percent) in the first half including 0-for-7 from 3-point range.

"We just came out, played with no confidence, just made silly mistake after silly mistake," Kent State coach Jim Christian said. "UNLV is a great team and took advantage of it. But that was about as bad as we can play."

Actually, the surprising thing is UNLV didn't play particularly well on offense itself, tying its season high with 19 turnovers and shooting just 39.4 percent (13-of-33) from the floor in the first half. But the Rebels more than made up for it with their swarming defense which produced 11 steals and forced 20 turnovers.

"We take a lot of pride in playing defense," guard Wink Adams, who had 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals, said. "I mean just to set that bar up like that, it feels good. I think it made a statement about just how good our defense can be. We just want to continue playing that way."

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